University of Exeter funding: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship

Dam beavers: quantifying the impacts of nature's water engineers on the fluvial geomorphology and flood regimes of streams and rivers. PhD in Geography (NERC GW4+ DTP) Ref: 3685

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Prof Richard Brazier, Department of Geography, Centre for Resilient Environment, Water and Waste, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter,  

Additional Supervisors

Dr Gemma Coxon, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol

Dr Stewart Clarke, National Trust

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter, EX4 4QJ

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • A stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
  • Travel and accomodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events
  • No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter


Students who are resident in EU countries are eligible for the full award on the same basis as UK residents.  Applicants resident outside of the EU (classed as International for tuition fee purposes) are not eligible for DTP funding. Residency rules are complex and if you have not been resident in the UK or EU for the 3 years prior to the start of the studentship, please apply and we will check eligibility upon shortlisting.

Project Background 

The Eurasian Beaver (Castor Fiber) was hunted to extinction in Great Britain and near-extinction in Europe. Over recent decades, it has made a comeback, with numbers now nearing 1 million in mainland Europe and with a number of reintroductions and licensed trials established in GB to improve understanding of the role that this ecosystem engineer might play if more widespread. Since beavers were absent from GB, landscapes have been modified extensively in support of agricultural intensification, with an emphasis upon the drainage of the land to deliver enhanced production of food. Waterways are now straightened and deepened, fields under-drained and often bare of vegetation, to maximise drainage efficiency, but with detrimental impacts downstream. Thus, there are very few, if any ‘natural’ streams or rivers in GB, which means that research is required to understand what impact beavers might deliver, as they return into densely populated, intensively-farmed ecosystems. This PhD will deliver new understanding of the ways in which streams and channels will respond to beaver activity and will therefore provide fundamental science to guide both decision and policymakers and land managers as to how to respond.   

Project Aims and Methods

The overall aim of this project is to quantify the impacts that beavers will have on the fluvial geomorphology and flood regimes of a wide range of surface waters in Great Britain. It is noted here that the PhD student will both refine and redesign this project, as their ownership of the research develops, however we have established the following hypotheses to test:

  1. Beaver activity (particularly beaver dams) will force channel-planform change across a range of stream orders (at least 1st to 4th), increasing sinuosity, decreasing width:depth ratios and increasing the presence of multi-thread channels in the landscape, which engage more regularly with floodplains.
  2. Within-channel bed characteristics will be significantly altered via beaver dam construction, with along-channel heterogeneity of bed material increasing; becoming finer upstream of dams and coarser downstream.
  3. Channel long-profiles will be altered towards more step-formed geometry due to the presence of beaver dams and these geomorphic changes will persist, delivering changes to hydraulic behaviour along beaver-dammed reaches, when compared with non-dammed reaches. 
  4. Beaver dammed channels will deliver flow attenuation, reducing peak flows and increasing lag times in a comparable manner to more conventional natural flood management techniques such as woody debris dams. 

The project will deploy a Multiple Before-After-Control-Impact experimental design, deploying methods including: ground-based surveys, structure-from-motion drone-based photogrammetry, hydrological monitoring, suspended sediment and bedload monitoring, numerical modelling and GIS. 


Beaver damming at the Cornwall Beaver Trial, Ladock, a site which sits upstream of a flood-prone community.



Beavers will fell trees both for food and for material to build dams. What role can these structures play in changing channel response to flooding?

Candidate Requirements

The candidate will have a skillset acquired through study of Physical Geography, Environmental Science, Ecology, Remote Sensing or cognate disciplines that has involved the use of field-based, remote sensing and numerical modelling/GIS techniques at BSc and ideally MSc level. The candidate will need to design and implement field campaigns across multiple sites and will be an empathetic communicator, who can work with project partners from a variety of backgrounds.

CASE or Collaborative Partner

The NT co-supervisors and associated staff will bring both additional scientific expertise in the areas of freshwater science and working with natural processes, as well as opportunities to work outside of the academic bubble, delivering real impact with their research to two very different employers. 


Training will be a major component of the PhD. Prof Brazier’s group will provide training in field-based monitoring of beaver activity at the CREWW, wherein >20 research staff and >10 PhD students are already based, focussing on water-related research. Dr Coxon will provide training in GIS, data analysis and numerical modelling of hydrology and fluvial processes. Dr Clarke will provide input for the PhD candidate as to how to engage with the National Trust, how to deliver research into the organisation and how to shape policy within large organisations via research. Dr Clarke will also bring the experience of wider NT colleagues on the Riverlands project on working with natural processes to train the student how to make comparisons between beaver impacts and those of anthropogenic interventions to deliver channel change and flood management.

References / Background reading list 

Auster, R., Puttock, A., Brazier, R.E. (2019). Unravelling perceptions of Eurasian beaver reintroduction in Great Britain. Area DOI: 10.1111/area.12576

Brown, A. G., Brazier et al.,  (2018). Natural vs anthropogenic streams in Europe: history, ecology and implications for restoration, river-rewilding and riverine ecosystem services. Earth-Science Reviews, 180, 185-205. DOI: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2018.02.001

Glendell, M. and Brazier, R.E. (2014) Accelerated erosion of soil and carbon from landscapes under intensive agriculture. SciTotEnv

Puttock, A.K., Graham, H., Carless, D and Brazier, R.E. (2018) Sediment and nutrient storage in a beaver engineered wetland. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms DOI: 10.1002/esp.4398

Puttock, A., Graham, HA., Cunliffe, A.M., Elliott, M and Brazier, R.E. (2017) Eurasian beaver activity increases water storage, attenuates flow and mitigates diffuse pollution from intensively-managed grasslands. Science of the Total Environment 576, 430-443

Puttock, A.K., Cunliffe, A., Anderson, K.A. and Brazier, R.E. (2015) Aerial photography collected with a multirotor drone reveals impact of Eurasian beaver reintroduction on ecosystem structure. Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems.


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.

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.

Reference information
You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process, however we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the, 7 days prior to the interview dates.  Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees 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 1600 hours GMT Monday 6 January 2020.  Interviews will be held between 10 and 21 February 2020.  For more information about the NERC GW4+ DPT please visit

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

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:6th January 2020
Value:£15,009 per annum for 2019-20
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries