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School of Geography

Impacts of peatland pipe blocking: supporting future peatland restoration best practice

Fully Funded PhD Studentship

Start date - Spring 2017

Deadline for applications: 2 January 2017

Supervisors: Professor Joseph Holden (University of Leeds), Professor Martin Evans (Manchester University), Professor Pippa Chapman (University of Leeds), Dr Jonathan Walker (Moors for the Future Partnership)

Funding details
The studentship covers full UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free maintenance stipend of £14,000 per year for 3 years.  There will also be some funding for additional project costs.  This studentship is open to UK/EU applicants. Internationally fee-rated students are not eligible to apply.

Project description

We are seeking an enthusiastic and able student to undertake a new research project examining the impact of blocking eroding pipes (connected cavities) in peatlands.

Many peatlands contain natural connected cavities which can contribute large amounts of water (Smart et al., 2013) and carbon to stream systems (Holden et al., 2012a; Dinsmore et al., 2011). Many of these pipe systems erode and are dynamic (Holden et al., 2012b) and can often collapse leading to gully development. Piping appears to be more prevalent in degrading peat systems, particularly in blanket peatlands that are subject to artificial drainage or erosion (Holden, 2005). As funding is being spent to restore many degraded peatlands, there are questions about how to deal with pipe erosion systems and what impacts restoration activity has on these pipe systems. The peat around pipes may also have a different structure and permeability which may affect the outcome of pipe blocking work (Cunliffe et al., 2013).

As part of a major peatland restoration programme called MoorLIFE 2020 operating in the Peak District and South Pennines of England, a trial will be set up by the PhD student to study pipe blocking impacts that inform future best practice for restoration work. The project will be done in close collaboration with Moors for the Future who are co-funding the studentship and can provide the groundworks to support the project.

Some of the key components of work would include:

  • Literature review on the current state of knowledge on peat pipes and their role in degradation in   blanket bog systems.
  • Design a research project to evidence the impacts of different types and contexts of pipe blocking on:
    • Water flow paths and rates of flow
    • Sediment and dissolved organic carbon release
    • Water tables
    • Other relevant factors
  • Outline what the findings of the research mean for future practice in peatland restoration programmes.
  • Contribute to land owner and manager knowledge exchange events and materials.
  • Contribute to larger annual reports for the funders of the wider MoorLIFE2020 programme.

This is an exciting opportunity for a student interested in undertaking cutting edge science that delivers an applied outcome within a wider programme of work. Applicants should have a minimum of an 2i honours degree in Geography or a related area and a Masters degree in a relevant subject would be an advantage.  The student should be able to work in challenging peatland terrain, have a valid UK driving licence and have an interest in hydrology, soils water quality and carbon cycling.


Cunliffe, A., Baird, A.J., Holden, J. (2013). Hydrological hotspots in peatlands: spatial variability in hydraulic conductivity around natural soil pipes. Water Resources Research, 49, 5342-5354 DOI: 10.1002/wrcr.20435
 Smart, R.P., Holden, J., Dinsmore, K., Baird A.J., Billett M.F., Chapman, P.J. and Grayson, R. (2013) The dynamics of natural pipe hydrological behaviour in blanket peat. Hydrological Processes, 27, 1523-1534. DOI: 10.1002/hyp.9242
 Holden, J., Smart, R.P., Dinsmore, K., Baird, A., Billett, M.F., and Chapman, P.J. (2012a) Natural pipes in blanket peatlands: major point sources for the release of carbon to the aquatic system. Global Change Biology, 18, 3568-3580. doi: 10.1111/gcb.12004
 Holden, J., Smart, R.P., Dinsmore, K., Baird A.J., Billett M.F., Chapman, P.J. (2012b) Morphological change of natural pipe outlets in blanket peat. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 37, 109-118. doi: 10.1002/esp.2239
Dinsmore, K. J., Smart, R. P., Billett, M. F., Holden, J., Baird, A. J., Chapman, P. J. (2011) Greenhouse gas losses from peatland pipes: a major pathway for loss to the atmosphere? Journal of Geophysical Research 116, G03041, doi:10.1029/2011JG001646.
 Holden, J. (2005) Controls of soil pipe frequency in blanket peat uplands. Journal of Geophysical Research,110, F010002, DOI: 10.1029/2004JF000143.

To Apply
Please submit a PhD application to the School of Geography as outlined here by 2 January 2017