Skip to main content
University of Exeter funding: Dam beavers: quantifying the impact

Dam beavers: quantifying the impacts of nature's water engineers on the fluvial geomorphology and flood regimes of streams and rivers, Geography – PhD (Funded) Studentship Ref: 3940

About the award


Academic Supervisors

Professor Richard Brazier, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Professor Karen Anderson, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Dr Alan Puttock, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Dr Stewart Clarke, National Trust

Location: Geography, Streatham Campus, Exeter

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences, in partnership with the National Trust, is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence in October 2020 or as soon as possible thereafter.  For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,285 for 4 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.  The student would be based in Geography in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter.

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.

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.

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 £15,285 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 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

Applicants for this studentship must 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 an appropriate area of science or technology.  Driving license or ability to travel to remote field sites independently would be useful.

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 as follows:
• 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)
• Two references from referees familiar with your academic work. If your referees prefer, they can email the reference direct to quoting the studentship reference number 3940.
• 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 27 September 2020.  Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter Streatham Campus or via video link in the week commencing 5 October 2020.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone 0300 555 60 60 (UK callers) or +44 (0) 1392 723044 (EU/International callers).  Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor, Prof Richard Brazier (


Application deadline:27th September 2020
Value:UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,285
Duration of award:per year
Contact: STEMM PGR Admissions