PhD: Evaluating the socioenvironmental benefits of Nature-based Solutions via FindAPhD

University of Stirling

Stirling, UK 🇬🇧

About the Project


Nature-based solutions (NbS) are “actions to protect, sustainably manage, or restore natural ecosystems, that address societal challenges such as climate change, human health, food and water security, and disaster risk reduction effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits” (World Bank, 2022). However, we lack evidence on the effectiveness of NbS to act at these multiple levels and what are the potential key components needed for success. Our research cluster at the University of Stirling (Evaluating the Socioenvironmental benefits of NbS) is an interdisciplinary group of researchers keen to learn more about NbS so we can create evidence-informed policy and practice solutions for the socioenvironmental crises we currently face. As part of a competitive PhD studentship scheme at the University of Stirling we are inviting applications from prospective research students looking to work with us to develop projects that could make a real-world impact.  


Whilst NbS were originally defined as actions that restore ecosystems for climate change mitigation and adaptation, the concept is now far more widely interpreted to include approaches to an array of additional environmental and societal challenges such as biodiversity loss, human health, and sustainable economic development (Cohen-Shacham et al., 2016). The implementation of NbS initiatives that restore, for example, peatlands and woodlands, or implement urban green- and blue-space development, is gathering pace at extraordinary levels – locally, nationally, and globally. Yet, due to the multifaceted goals of NbS, their ability to deliver across such breadth and diversity (including range of benefits) often remains unverified. This limits confidence in considering these actions as ‘solutions’ to some of the world’s most pressing socioenvironmental crises.  

The implementation of NbS often assumes, for example, that benefits align across multiple socioenvironmental challenges, however this is an assumption that remains to be tested. Tree planting, for instance, is increasingly presented as a tool to increase carbon storage, while restoring biodiversity. The potential of tree planting to mitigate climate-change has been questioned, however, with accumulating evidence that increasing aboveground (i.e., tree) carbon stocks depletes the soil carbon stock, leading to no ecosystem-scale increase in carbon storage. This illustrates that if NbS initiatives do not consider the ecosystem-scale response by considering the aboveground, belowground, and aquatic compartment, their outcomes may be null or even counterproductive. Using another example, there is a sound theoretical basis and growing evidence for the facilitation of public access to green and blue spaces to benefit individual and population health (Markevych et al., 2017; McDougall et al., 2021). However, pathways to positive health outcomes are still unclear when explored across different population groups and diverse contexts. And despite health benefits, the socioeconomic and biodiversity impact that increased human engagement with green- and blue-spaces will create remains uncertain. Evaluating the benefits of NbS therefore requires an interdisciplinary approach to determine synergies or trade-offs between different socioenvironmental challenges (biodiversity loss, climate change, health, economic development) at ecosystem-scale. A holistic approach to evaluation of NbS benefits is thus urgently required to address such challenges simultaneously and, importantly, to inform development of NbS to maximise positive impacts.  

Aims and Objectives  

Our cluster aims to provide an interdisciplinary lens to explore the links between NbS and biodiversity, climate change, population health, and economic development. Within this broad topic we would be interested in projects that examine the following. Note this is not an exhaustive list, rather a prompt to get you thinking of ideas we could explore together based on your interests and expertise.  

  1. Assess how availability, accessibility, and quality of NbS in the landscape impacts on range/scale of biodiversity, socioeconomic, individual- and population-level health, and climate-related benefits. 
  2. Investigate potential synergies and/or trade-offs between biodiversity, climate, and health benefits derived from NbS across a rural-urban landscape gradient; 
  3. Characterise competing socioecological demands and pressures, and associated human/nature conflicts, in relation to NbS in different socioenvironmental contexts; 
  4. Quantify stakeholder understandings of biodiversity, climate, socio-economic, and health benefits attributed to NbS; 
  5. Evaluate how green- and blue-space quality influences a range of different biodiversity, socioeconomic, and population/public health benefits that result from access/exposure to NbS; 
  6. Explore how different population groups engage with different types of NbS, the pathways through which health benefits are achieved, and how NBs may influence health inequalities;  

We welcome projects that take an interdisciplinary approach, using (for example) diverse theories and methods e.g. biological surveys to monitor biodiversity/ecosystem health, spatial mapping & remote sensing, secondary data (e.g. biodiversity metrics); natural experiments, impact evaluation analysis; scenario-analysis & modelling; interviews, questionnaires, focus groups, participatory action/community-based methods, validated measures of physical/mental health & wellbeing/quality of life. 

Supervisory Team 

A very wide range of disciplines/subject areas, across four Faculties at the University, are included in our cluster. Supervisory teams will be created to best suit PhD projects once students have been identified but will consist of at least two supervisors from different Faculties at the University to ensure an interdisciplinary supervisory experience for the student.  Supervisors include those from: 

  • Faculty of Natural Sciences 
  • Biological and Environmental Science – expertise in NbS, environmental sustainability, and the effect of green- and blue-spaces on human health;  
  • Health Psychology – expertise in development/evaluation of social prescribing initiatives.  
  • Faculty of Social Sciences 
  • Social Work – expertise in population health/effect of green environments on health;  
  • Salvation Army Centre for Addiction Services and Research – expertise on effect of greenspace on health at population and individual levels, green social prescribing, policy analysis, intervention development and marginalised communities. 
  • Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport 
  • Nursing, Midwifery, and Allied Health Professions Unit – expertise in public health, implementation science, and intervention development.  
  • Stirling Management School 
  • Economics – expertise in cost benefit analysis, environmental and wellbeing economics, and the use of natural experiments to test and evaluate NbS.  

Funding Notes

This advert is part of the recently launched Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS) Studentships at the University of Stirling. PhD studentships are available as part of a competitive funding process. The application deadline for Expressions of Interest to the scheme is Friday 14th April 2023 at 5pm GMT. However, students MUST contact us to discuss your interest in doing a project as part of the Evaluating the Socioenvironmental Benefits of NbS research cluster before this deadline to help us identify possible supervisors and to help shape your project idea.
You can find more information on this opportunity at View Website


Cohen-Shacham et al (2016). Nature-based solutions to address global societal challenges. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Gland: Switzerland.
Markevych I, et al (2017). Exploring pathways linking greenspace to health: Theoretical and methodological guidance. Environmental Research, 158, pp. 301-317.
McDougall CW, et al (2021). Neighbourhood blue space and mental health: A ationwide ecological study of antidepressant medication prescribed to older adults. Landscape and Urban Planning, 214, 104132.
World Bank (2022). What You Need to Know About Nature-Based Solutions to Climate Change. Available:,well%2Dbeing%20and%20biodiversity%20benefits. [Accessed 01 February 2023]
IAS Studentship holders will work in collaborative, inter-disciplinary clusters of postgraduate researchers working on complementary doctoral projects.





IHE Delft MSc in Water and Sustainable Development