Project 12: Contribution of conservation areas outside formal protected areas to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development

This project will examine and assess the contribution of conservation areas outside formal protected areas to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. Based at the University of Copenhagen (Copenhagen, Denmark), with secondments to UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (Cambridge, UK; 7.8 months) and BirdLife International (Cambridge, UK; 3 months).

This is Project 12 out of 15 PhD positions currently available as part of the Inspire4Nature training programme. Deadline for applications: 16 April 2018 (midnight, Brussels time). We are no longer accepting applications to this project. 

PhD topic

While formal protected areas remain a cornerstone of present-day conservation practice, other forms of area–based conservation management, such as community-based governance approaches, are increasingly embraced. Such approaches are seen as contributing to conservation goals by benefiting biodiversity outside formal protected areas and by enhancing connectivity between existing protected areas. “Other effective area-based conservation measures” are explicitly included in Aichi Target 11 of the Strategic Plan on Biodiversity 2011-2020 adopted through the Convention on Biological Diversity, and in Sustainable Development Goal 15, although a formal definition of such areas has only recently been proposed. There is therefore increasing emphasis on gathering information about the extent of such conservation areas (e.g. World Database on Protected Areas) and their possible overlap with areas of biodiversity importance such as Key Biodiversity Areas (see e.g.

However, despite efforts to systematize and aggregate knowledge on these conservation areas outside formal protected areas, important knowledge gaps remain. No comprehensive global, regional or national datasets of such areas exist, and systematic information on their management regimes, governance structures, socio-political and geographic characteristics is lacking. Further, attempts at systematization and aggregation is challenged in some cases by poorly defined and dynamic boundaries of conservation areas and by the dynamic nature of their governance arrangements. Similarly, generalizable conclusions regarding the contribution of conservation areas to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development are evasive. This is, among other reasons, because research on the contribution of such areas to the protection of biodiversity and sustainable development appears divided between approaches favoring quasi-experimental approaches and statistical modes of analysis, and approaches favoring ethnographic case studies. While the former applies existing systematized and aggregated datasets and assesses the impacts of policies on pre-determined outcomes through statistical analysis, the latter emphasizes the varied and contextual nature of both policies and outcomes.

In response to these issues, the PhD project will:

  1. Review and describe existing databases and datasets with systematized and aggregated relevant data on conservation areas outside formal protected areas
  2. Review the literature on governance arrangements for and contributions of conservation areas outside formal protected areas to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development
  3. In one or more focal countries, collect and examine data on the location, extent and governance arrangements of conservation areas outside formal protected areas from various international and national databases and other sources with an aim to (i) create a systematic overview of the location, extent, governance arrangements and other characteristics of such conservation areas and (ii) examine the gaps, inconsistencies, and biases in existing data.
  4. In at least one case country, assess the contribution of various conservation areas outside formal protected areas to the protection of biodiversity and sustainable development through a mixed methods approach that exploits existing systematized and aggregated datasets (e.g. on Key Biodiversity Areas, species distributions, ecoregions, and remote sensing data) as well as on-the-ground ethnographic field work, with an aim to assess the contribution they make to biodiversity conservation, their effectiveness in mitigating biodiversity loss, and the relative importance and effectiveness of different types of governance and management arrangements, and to illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches and provide a more complete understanding of the links between different conservation governance arrangements and outcomes.

The results of the PhD study may contribute to the work of the IUCN WCPA Task Force on OECMs and will guide the development of methods for identifying, documenting and delineating OECMs in the future.

Institutional context and Supervision

The PhD student will be hired by the University of Copenhagen (UCPH), the largest research and education institution in Denmark, and enrolled as a PhD candidate at the PhD School of SCIENCE. S/he will be physically based at the Section for Global Development, which is part of the Department of Food and Resource Economics, in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Section for Global Development hosts an interdisciplinary group of researchers who focus on understanding political, social, economic and institutional dynamics in relation to conservation and natural resources management. The project will be supervised by Jens Friis Lund (Professor of Political Ecology).

The study will be implemented in close collaboration with UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), a world leader in biodiversity knowledge and the executive agency of the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, for biodiversity assessments, as well as BirdLife International, the world’s largest nature conservation partnership, whose work focuses on the conservation of birds, their habitats and global biodiversity. The student will spend 8 months at WCMC in Cambridge, UK, to gain knowledge on different types of protected areas and other conservation governance approaches by interacting with the protected areas team and UNEP-WCMC’s World Database on Protected Areas. This will be directly followed by 3 months at BirdLife's headquarters also in Cambridge, UK, where the student will be working with the World Database of Key Biodiversity Areas, which is managed by BirdLife. At WCMC the student will be supervised by Elise Belle (Senior Programme Officer) and Naomi Kingston (Head Programme) at the Protected Areas Programme; while at BirdLife s/he will be supervised by Stuart Butchart (Chief Scientist).

Ideal candidate

Candidates must meet all the general eligibility conditions applicable to all Inspire4Nature PhD positions, as described under “check if you are eligible” in this page. In particular:

  • At the time of commencement of the PhD study, applicants must not have been awarded a doctorate degree and must be within the first 4 years (full-time equivalent) of their research careers.
  • Applicants must not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in Denmark for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately prior to their recruitment.

In addition:

  • The University of Copenhagen requires that applicants have a MSc degree or equivalent of relevance to the advertised position.

Applicants will be assessed on the basis of the following criteria:

  • Good results in a MSc degree or equivalent of relevance to the advertised position
  • Good English skills
  • Quality of the research proposal submitted with the application
  • Experience with one or more of the following: (i) remote-sensing imagery analysis; (ii) quantitative data sets and statistical analysis and; (iii) ethnographic field work
  • Experience with/knowledge of area-based conservation

Shortlisted candidates will be invited to Skype-based interviews which will be held on June 11, 2018 between 8 am and 5 pm Central European Time. Please save the date.


For any questions regarding application procedures, check this page first. If you cannot find your answer there, contact us. For any questions regarding the scientific content and institutional context of the PhD, contact professor Jens Friis Lund.

Ready to apply?

For the instructions on how to prepare and submit your application, go to this page. Important: Candidates to this position must follow two particular procedures (different from applications to most other Inspire4Nature projects):

  • Also include a research proposal, describing what you intend to do during the PhD study. This should take up to two pages, and be included in the same document as your cover letter.
  • Submit your application directly to the University of Copenhagen: Follow THIS LINK.

Only applications that are complete, in English, that respect the instructions in this page and that have been submitted directly to the University of Copenhagen before the deadline (16 April 2018) will be considered eligible.

We are no longer accepting applications to this project. 



Academic Host

    University of Copenhagen
Copehnagen, Denmark
        Jens Friis Lund


    UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre
Cambridge, UK
        Elise Belle
        Naomi Kingston
    BirdLife International
Cambridge, UK
        Stu Butchart