College of Life and Environmental Sciences – School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Location: University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham UK

As this vacancy has limited funding the maximum salary that can be offered is Grade 7, a salary of £35,333

Full Time, Fixed Term contract up to April 2026

Closing date: 2nd April 2023


The School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences is seeking a Research Fellow to investigate knowledge controversies around peatland restoration for carbon storage. This is a 36-month position, part of the wider three-year research project, Carbon Futures in the Mire? A Political Ecology of Peat Restoration and Remaking, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The Research Fellow will join a team of social science colleagues at the Universities of Birmingham and Bristol, and work with wider stakeholders and communities involved in the management, use and restoration of peatland landscapes at case study sites in Estonia and the UK.

This position presents an exciting opportunity to work at the forefront of interdisciplinary research on natural climate solutions. To date, most research into peat restoration has been led by ecological science, studying how peatland emissions will respond to future environmental change and landscape interventions. Yet, peatlands are not just complex ecosystems. Given their diverse cultural importance and various uses as economic resources, they can be understood as “peat-scapes” – dynamic, working landscapes whose ultimate purpose and value is contested by different groups. The project, accordingly, adopts a much-needed “political ecology” perspective, viewing restoration as a thorny social process that brings carbon-based imperatives into conflict with other ways of knowing and valuing peat natures.

At an overarching level, the project will advocate a view of peat restoration, and nature recovery more broadly, as a coupled socio-ecological project requiring careful integration of diverse knowledges—techno-scientific, historical, embodied, and emotional. It aims to do so by deploying participatory and deliberative research methods that will provide space and time for dialogue to emerge and develop between peatland ecologists, social scientists, restoration practitioners, and local stakeholders and communities. The project aims ultimately to establish an agenda for further trans-disciplinary collaboration between social and natural scientists, while making important new contributions to scholarly debates on nature-based solutions, resource-making and non-human work in the context of climate and ecological breakdown.

The successful applicant will lead data collection and analysis relating to two case study sites in Estonia, including several months of on-site fieldwork. Key tasks include the use of participatory research methods, such as walking interviews and photovoice to trace the “knowledge controversies” around peatland restoration and its place-specific implications for extant ways of living and working with peat. In addition, the Research Fellow will work with the wider project team to trace the emerging international geographies of peat restoration science and carbon accounting, drawing on a combination of desk-based literature review, document analysis and semi-structured interviews with peatland ecologists, restoration managers, funders and volunteers, as well as industry representatives and members of local communities. In the final stages of the project, the Research Fellow will co-design and co-facilitate a multi-stakeholder workshop, deploying inclusive, participatory approaches for developing place-specific visions of future peat-scape restoration in Estonia, wherein climate objectives can be integrated with wider social and environmental goals.

The successful applicant will join a new, energetic and well-supported project team, led by Dr Kärg Kama (University of Birmingham) and Dr James Palmer (PI, University of Bristol). There will be a strong focus on inclusion and career development, with opportunities available for training and research skills development. The applicant will also be invited to engage in a thriving interdisciplinary research culture at the University of Birmingham, including the Birmingham Institute for Sustainability and Climate Action, the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research, and the Institute of Advanced Studies.

Role Summary

  • Work within the research project “Carbon Futures in the Mire? A Political Ecology of Peat Restoration and Remaking”
  • Apply knowledge to develop new critical intellectual understanding of the controversies surrounding peatland restoration for carbon storage, drawing on relevant social science theories and methods
  • Collect research data, including primary qualitative data from field research in Estonia
  • Analyse, interpret and disseminate research findings and results
  • Work collaboratively with the project team, wider academic communities, and relevant stakeholders, and contribute to project management

Main Duties

The responsibilities may include some but not all of the responsibilities outlined below.

  • Work with the Co-I, PI and wider project team (including advisory board) to develop and refine the project’s research objectives and methods, and contribute to setting the direction of the wider project
  • Review relevant academic literatures, policy reports and other relevant documentary resources to develop new intellectual understanding of peatland resource conflicts, restoration science and controversies, carbon accounting and resource-making, and their relationship with wider net-zero and nature recovery policies, with a specific focus on Estonia
  • Collect primary research data at field sites in Estonia, using a variety of methods including participant observation, interviews, photovoice, deliberative workshops, and/or social media analysis
  • Build and sustain amicable working relations with relevant research partners and stakeholders, and uphold rigorous ethical standards in the collection and management of research data
  • Analyse and interpret data derived from desk- and field-based research, working independently and with other project team members
  • Present information on research progress and outcomes to the project team (including the advisory board) and interested research communities, for example, at seminars and conferences
  • Write up and disseminate results from their own research activity through academic and non-academic publications, and contribute to co-authored communications from the project team (including through reports, papers, conference presentations, webinars)
  • Manage their research to meet programme deliverables and coordinate with project team members, under guidance and with support of line manager
  • Deal with problems that may affect the achievement of research objectives and deadlines
  • Undertake other management and administration tasks arising from the research project
  • Provide guidance, as requited, to support any other staff and students who may be assisting with the research
  • Contribute to public engagement activities and writing bids for research funding, under the supervision of the project leader
  • Maintain academic standards and freedom, and work in accordance with University policies (e.g. equal opportunities, research ethics, health and safety)
  • Consistently act as a good citizen, contributing to School research-related activities and actively participating in the working life of the School
  • Promote equality and values diversity, acting as a role model and fostering an inclusive working culture.

Person Specification


  • A PhD degree or equivalent research degree (or approaching PhD completion) in a relevant social science discipline, such as Human Geography, Environmental Politics, Anthropology, or Science and Technology Studies
  • Experience of using qualitative social science methods, such as semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and/or focus groups, and ability to contribute to developing new methods
  • Experience of undertaking interpretive analysis of qualitative data derived from research with human participants
  • Well-developed analytical skills. An ability to set and investigate research questions with initiative and creativity, and to solve problems systematically
  • Willingness to travel for periods of field research abroad
  • Ability and enthusiasm to engage with stakeholders and partners in case study sites
  • Ability to communicate complex information clearly in English, both orally and in the written word
  • Ability to work collaboratively with colleagues from a range of backgrounds, disciplines and cultures
  • Ability to discuss scientific and technical concepts with project partners and stakeholders outside of academia
  • Ability to contribute to the planning and organising of the research project, to assess resource requirements and use resources effectively
  • Understanding of and ability to contribute to broader management/administration processes, and to co-ordinate own work with others to avoid conflict or duplication of effort
  • Enthusiasm to deliver on the overall goals of the research project, and to help develop a new interdisciplinary framework to guide sustainable, socially legitimate peat restoration.


  • Language skills in Estonian, or willingness to learn within the first year of the project
  • Experience of using wider qualitative methods including participant observation, walking interviews, participatory photovoice, and/or deliberative workshops
  • Experience of methodological innovation and/or interdisciplinary research
  • Experience of writing up results for publication in peer-reviewed journals
  • Knowledge of the protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010, and how to actively ensure in day to day activity in own area that those with protected characteristics are treated equally and fairly.

Informal enquires to Dr K ärg Kama, k.kama@bham.ac.uk

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