Dormouse conservation and woodland management, NERC GW4+ DTP, PhD in Biosciences studentship Ref: 3319

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Professor Robbie McDonald, Environment and Sustainability Institute & Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors

Professor Mike Bruford, School of Biosciences, Cardiff University

Dr Frank Hailer, School of Biosciences, Cardiff University

Alice Broome, Forest Research (CASE partner)

Kat Walsh, Natural England (Collaborative Partner)

Dr Liz Halliwell, Natural Resources Wales (Collaborative Partner)

Location: University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9FE

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An index-linked stipend for 3.5 years (currently £14,777 p.a. for 2018/19);
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £4,000 for specialist training courses and expenses.

Up to 30 fully-funded studentships will be available across the partnership.

Students from EU countries who do not meet the residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award but no stipend.  Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.

Project Background
Despite their strict protection and major conservation efforts, populations of hazel dormice Muscardinus avellanarius in England and Wales continue to decline. Recent analyses by the University of Exeter (Goodwin et al 2017) identified a 72% decline in dormouse populations from 1993 to 2014 and suggested that the species could be categorized as Endangered in the UK. Our recent work (Goodwin et al 2018a, b) has also highlighted the importance of improving woodland management to enhance the conservation status of the species in the UK. This collaborative CASE project will involve fieldwork on dormice and forestry practice. The student will work alongside key conservation organisations to build on recent work on dormouse ecology and to evaluate and improve woodland management practices in order to reverse the fortunes of this most endearing British mammal.

Project Aims and Methods
The overall aim of this project is to understand variation in dormouse conservation status, evaluate woodland management and provide evidence for improved practices to support dormouse recovery in the UK. This will be achieved by extensive analysis of dormouse populations and of woodland characteristics, using remotely sensed data, accompanied by intensive surveys of dormice and habitats in a sample of commercial and non-commercial, broadleaf and coniferous woodlands. The student will survey woodland managers to understand practice in relation to conservation regulation and commercial and other management objectives. The student will also have the opportunity to employ molecular genetic techniques to understand dormouse population processes and to develop population models to understand how variation in practice might affect populations in the long term. The student will work at public and private forests across England and Wales, sampling sites at which dormice are thriving and sites where they are in decline. The project will require extended periods of fieldwork away from Cornwall, and periods in the laboratory in Cardiff and at Forest Research.

Project partners at Exeter, Cardiff and at the partner organisations will provide broad-based training in conservation science, including: species status assessment, ecological survey and analysis using terrestrial and remotely sensed data, forest ecology and with the additional opportunity to employ molecular analysis of population processes, social surveys of practitioners and population modelling.

CASE or Collaborative Partner 
Forest Research is the CASE partner, and will host placements in the field and at FR research stations. This is also a partnership project with two GW4+ Collaborative Partners: Natural England and Natural Resources Wales. NE and NRW are members of the UK Dormouse Biodiversity Steering Group and will also offer policy placement opportunities, allowing the student to shadow specialist conservation advisors.


Fig.1 Hazel dormouse conservation is a top priority for UK woodlands (Photo by Danielle Schwarz CC BY-SA 3.0)

Fig.2 Hibernating dormouse (Photo by Zoë Helene Kindermann - CC BY-SA 4.0)

References / Background reading list
C.E.D. Goodwin, D.J. Hodgson, S. Bailey, J. Bennie & R.A. McDonald (2018a) Habitat preferences of hazel dormice Muscardinus avellanarius and the effects of tree-felling on their movement. Forest Ecology and Management 427, 190-199. 
C.E.D. Goodwin, A.J. Suggitt, J. Bennie, M.J Silk, J.P. Duffy, N. Al-Fulaij, S. Bailey, D.J. Hodgson, & R.A. McDonald (2018b) Climate, landscape, habitat and woodland management associations with hazel dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius population status. Mammal Review 48, 209-223. 
C.E.D. Goodwin, D.J. Hodgson, N. Al-Fulaij, S. Bailey, S. Langton & R.A. McDonald (2017) Voluntary recording scheme reveals ongoing decline in the United Kingdom hazel dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius population. Mammal Review 47, 183-197.

For more information about this project and the research group see

Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

Candidate Requirements
The project will suit a student interested in a career in animal ecology, conservation science and wildlife management. The work will require a high degree of analytical ability and a willingness to work in the field conducting ecological studies of wildlife and practitioner surveys, in the laboratory and at the computer conducting statistical and analytical work.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project


How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

  • CV
  • Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project.
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.
  • If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current proficiency in English.
  • Two References (applicants are recommended to have a third academic referee, if the two academic referees are within the same department/school).

Reference information
You will be asked to name two referees as part of the application process.  It is your responsibility to ensure that your two referees email their references to, as we will not make requests for references directly; you must arrange for them to be submitted by 7 January 2019

References should be submitted to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 7 January 2019.  Interviews will be held between 4 and 15 February 2019.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email  Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor Prof Robbie McDonald.

Data Sharing
During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

  • the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
  • administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.


Application deadline:7th January 2019
Value:£14,777 per annum for 2018-19
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries