Restoring the Celtic Tiger: Wildcat conservation in western Britain, Ecology, Conservation, Geography, Interdisciplinary Science – PhD (Funding) Ref: 3430

About the award


Professor Robbie McDonald, University of Exeter
Dr Steve Carter, Vincent Wildlife Trust
Dr Richard Young, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences, in partnership with Vincent Wildlife Trust and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence in September 2019 or as soon as possible thereafter.  Funding is confirmed for this project. For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £14,777 for 3.5 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study and research expenses.  The student would be based in the Environment and Sustainability Institute in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

Wildcats are Britain’s only Critically Endangered mammal. Following centuries of intensive predator control, wildcats are now protected but restricted to a population of about 200 individuals living in low productivity habitat in the Scottish Highlands, where they are threatened principally by hybridization with domestic cats. This project will investigate the potential for, and challenges to, wildcat recovery and restoration outside of their current Scottish refugium, to their former range in Wales and England.

The student will undertake interdisciplinary work towards understanding the ecological and social feasibility and practicalities of wildcat restoration. They will conduct qualitative studies of the challenges of reconciling wildcat conservation with the interests of domestic cat owners, and of potential conflict with farming and shooting interests. Quantitative studies will address the suitability of source populations of wildcats (including captive-breeding), population viability, landscape suitability and means of managing hybridization. Their academic aims will include building a social-ecological network around conservation of iconic species in contested landscapes, alongside delivering applied outcomes of protocols and practices towards reintroductions.

The student will work with partners at The Vincent Wildlife Trust (, who have recently led the successful restoration of pine martens to Wales, and global conservation leaders, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust ( Project supervisors are Professor Robbie McDonald of the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute (, Dr Steve Carter of the Vincent Wildlife Trust and Dr Rich Young of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. Renowned conservationist Professor Carl Jones will be a project advisor.

The student will join Professor McDonald’s research group ( Our research is interdisciplinary in nature and addresses problems that animals cause for people and the conflicts and disputes among people about animal management. We work on native and introduced, wild and domestic species and use a range of techniques and methodologies, from novel proximity loggers to quantify high resolution contact networks, to qualitative approaches to understanding practices and beliefs in animal management. We aim to achieve goals for controlling and eradicating disease in people and animals, for conserving biodiversity and for improving livelihoods. Our work aims to be useful, to answer worthwhile questions, and to contribute to the development and testing of theory. This studentship forms part of an innovative interdisciplinary programme of work on companion animal ecology, with seven research staff and PhD students currently working on the ecology and management of cats and dogs.

This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free stipend.  For students who pay UK/EU tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £14,777 per year tax-free stipend.  Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend.

The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 3.5 years of full-time study to commence in September 2019. The collaboration with the named project partner is subject to contract.  Please note full details of the project partner’s contribution and involvement with the project is still to be confirmed and may change during the course of contract negotiations.  Full details will be confirmed at offer stage.

Entry requirements

The project will suit a highly motivated conservation researcher who is keen to work at the interface of ecological and social sciences. You 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 in a broadly relevant discipline. A Masters degree is desirable but not essential. Experience of working successfully in a research or conservation environment and in partnership with stakeholders is desirable. You should be comfortable working with cats and their owners. You will need to have the ability to get to locations for fieldwork that may not be accessible by public transport. If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5  in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable (see

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents. 

• 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)
• Names of two referees familiar with your academic work. You are not required to obtain references yourself. We will request references directly from your referees if you are shortlisted.
• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 20 January 2018. Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter Penryn Campus on February 6th 2019.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone +44 (0)1392 722730 or +44 (0)1392 725150.  Project-specific queries should be directed to Professor Robbie McDonald


Application deadline:20th January 2019
Value:£14,777 per year for 3.5 years
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Office +44 (0)1392 722730 / 5150