BIFoR Urban and Interdisciplinary Research

The Birmingham Institute of Forest Research is made up of academics from across many disciplines, exploring the role and value of forested landscapes. From social sciences to mental health, natural history to climate mapping, our researchers are working together to protect and plan for forests of the future. 

BIFoR is part of the University of Birmingham's West Midlands Air Quality Improvement Programme (WMAir), the Centre for Urban Wellbeing and the Birmingham Institute for Sustainability and Climate Action (BISCA). 

Our interdisciplinary research is strengthened greatly by the Forest Edge Doctoral Scholarship programme (DSP) funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

19 and 20 June 2024, hybrid BIFoR Annual Conference, Forests as communities, forests in communities 

New virtual tour of Ruskin Land forest - this interactive resource explores Ruskin Land using 360 degree images, readings from fantasy fiction, and fascinating insights about the forest. 

Details of publications can be found on our Research Portal.  


BIFoR Urban, Health and Wellbeing 

Dr Emma Ferranti (Civil Engineering) facilitates the Trees Design and Action Group (TDAG).  This brings together individuals, professionals, academics and organisations from wide ranging disciplines in both the public and private sectors to improve knowledge and good practice to support the role of urban trees through better collaboration in the planning, design, construction and management and maintenance of our urban places.  The publications this group collaborated on include
  • First Steps in Urban Water explains the role of trees and other green infrastructure in sustainable water resource management
  • First Steps in Trees and New Developments - adhering to simple principles of good practice from pre- to post-planning, making space for trees is possible.  
  • First Steps in Urban Air Quality summarises the science on air pollution and green/grey infrastructure so practitioners can make informed decisions to improve air quality for better health outcomes. 
  • First Steps in Valuing Trees and Green Infrastructure an introductory guide that provides the context for valuing trees and green infrastructure in urban areas. It presents a range of common valuation scenarios and available tools. It describes how to approach valuation to ensure it delivers a change for the better in the way that policy, investment, design and management decisions affect environmental assets. Understanding the purpose of the valuation, and which stakeholders can act on valuation results is critical for success. 
  • First Steps in Urban Heat for Built Environmental Practitioners - this guide explains urban heat, the role of green infrastructure, and how to undertake heat sensitive planning and design. 
  • Urban Design for Air Quality - this guide explains how good urban design can improve air quality using simple principles that benefit air quality and providing practical guidance and illustrations outlining how to implement them in urban areas.

Emma is also part of a EU Horizon funded project CARMINE: Climate-Resilient Development Pathways in Metropolitan Regions of Europe. Part of this research will build on the Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (CRVA) mapping project which Emma is involved with and is led by Dr Sarah Greenham (GEES).  Within Emma's research group, Deanne Brettle is looking at climate change adaptation in cities with a focus on nature-based solutions, Naya Desai is looking at quantifying ecosystem services from urban trees and Yanzhi Lu is studying the potential of urban trees to remove air pollutants, carbon and heat.

Prof Rob MacKenzie's (GEES) looks at how green infrastructure can provide effective barriers to pollution from vehicles, markedly reducing the public’s exposure at the roadside. Amongst urban practitioners there has been some confusion surrounding the ways in which vegetation affects air quality. They have been awarded three successive Innovation grants from NERC to develop a quantitative Green Infrastructure for Roadside Air Quality (GI4RAQ) Platform, and to increase understanding of the effects of vegetation in this regard amongst public and private-sector stakeholders concerned with the design of our urban realm.  James has worked with Transport for London to develop their first evidence-based approach to GI4RAQ ( that builds on the simpler guidance he wrote with the Greater London Authority in 2019, 'Using Green Infrastructure to Protect People from Air Pollution.'

Dr Charles Goode (GEES) is a Teaching Fellow in Urban and Regional Planning. Charles has recently completed a BBSRC impact research project on urban greening and regeneration. This was focussed on an urban greening project on West Bromwich High Street. 

Dr Sarah Greenham (GEES) is an Impact Fellow in the Urban Design and Green Infrastructure strand of the West Midlands Air Quality Improvement Programme, WM-Air. Her interdisciplinary research background primarily focuses on adapting cities and their infrastructure to the impacts of climate change.  

Dr Andrea Frank (GEES) has recently joined the University of Birmingham. She is an urban planning scholar regarded for her work on community engagement in planning as well as researching and advancing planning education and pedagogies particularly in respect to international and community-engaged (socially responsible) co-learning. 

Prof Dominique Moran's (GEES) research and teaching is in the sub-discipline of carceral geography, a geographical perspective on incarceration. Her recent paper looks at how "Increased green space in prisons can reduce self-harm and violence

Other key people in this team include Prof Jon Sadler (GEES) and Prof Lee Chapman (GEES). 

Cultural Research

Forests and Literature 

Prof John Holmes (English Literature) is a Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture. His research focuses on the relationship between scientific ideas and cultural forms in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including poetry, architecture and the visual arts. John was a supervisor for Forest Edge graduate Dr Dion Dobrzynski -  'Forest Ecology in Fantasy Fiction: Mobilising the Imaginative Resources of Fantasy Fiction for Living with Forests' and 'Fantasy Fiction and Forest Ecology

The team have developed an interative resource exploring Ruskin Land (Worcestershire), using 360 degree images, readings from fantasy fiction, and fascinating insights about the forest. 

Ruskin Land Virtual Tour 

Literature in the forest
'Dreams of Trees': Animated Trees in European Poetry from Orpheus to the Ents.
Prof John Holmes: Imagining the world we want to build

Prof Alexandra Harris (English Literature) enjoys thinking and writing about British art and literature of all periods, especially in relation to landscape, locality and the presence of the past. Dr Matthew Ward's (English Literature) research focuses on British Romanticism, and the literature and intellectual history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Alex and Matthew are supervisors for Forest Edge student Thomas Kaye - 'Reading the Grain: The Patterns of Wood Rewilding Contemporary Prose & Poetry.'


Prof Louise Hardwick (Modern Languages) is a Reader in Francophone Postcolonial Studies and AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellow. As BIFoR Interdisciplinary Leadership Fellow for Ecocriticism, her work on ecocriticism contributes to the institute’s research into how to improve our understanding of the societal values surrounding forests and biodiversity.

How can we innovate and think beyond the traditional barriers of what it means to study ‘Modern Languages’ and – via the prism of another language – other cultures?

Modern Languages, and the Humanities more generally, have the potential to contribute to the study of human interactions with the environment, particularly in an era of climate change and increasing concerns about environmental catastrophes. The study and mastery of a foreign language exposes us to other ways of thinking about the environment, and to a new range of problems – and potential solutions – regarding how humans interact with the natural world.

In her own field of research, Francophone Caribbean studies, Louise analyses the tensions, conflicts and paradoxes which have arisen as a result of Europe’s colonial past. She focuses in particular on Martinique, a French Caribbean island which is both Caribbean and European. Martinique is in one of the regions designated as a global ‘biodiversity hotspot’ (Myers et al, Nature, 2000) – an area of stunning natural biodiversity which is under immediate threat and which needs to be protected by the international community. 

As part of BIFoR’s interdisciplinary agenda, Louise is committed to engaging the international public with forest research.  You can see more about Louise's activities on her blog: 

Environmental History  

Prof Frank Uekötter (History) and Kapil Subramanian (History) are working on environmental issues, both past and present, in a global context.  Frank received a prestigious Advanced Grant from the European Research Council of £1.74M (€2M) for his project, The Making of Monoculture: A Global History.  
Prof Uekötter describes new research project - The Making of Monoculture: A Global History.


Sustainable Development including Economics 

Dr Allan Beltran, Prof Robert Elliott, Prof David Maddison and Prof Eric Strobl are members of academic staff in the School of Economics with research interests in environmental economics.  David and Allan supervise PhD student Maria Teresa Gonzalez who is researching the role of fires in forest ecosystems.
Forest fires threaten the ecosystem services brought about by forests and also pose physical danger to households located on the vicinity. The high and increasing economic costs of forest fires can be reduced if we have a better understanding on the factors shaping the perceived risk of households. By using satellite and house price data our research will identify the size and persistence of the impact of pure information effect on the perception of forest fire risk.
The Near-miss Effect of Forest Fires: Evidence from Western Australia

Prof Robert Elliott is part of the WM-Air team researching air pollution in the West Midlands. Air pollution in the West Midlands affects some 2.8 million people, reducing average life expectancy by up to 6 months, and is responsible for direct and indirect economic costs of several hundred million pounds per year. Air quality is therefore a key priority for local and regional government, and for the health and wellbeing of the region’s population. Find out more at WM-Air team. Robert and Eric previously supervised PhD student Dr Vilane Goncalves-Sales, who looked at satellite monitoring of deforestation and the role of clouds in Maranhão. Vilane is now working for the World Trade Institute

Prof Fiona Nunan (International Development Department) and Dr Brock Bersaglio (International Development Department) supervise PhD student Harriet Croome,who focuses on interactions between Maasai pastoralists and African elephants in Laikipia, Kenya, my project aims to understand how elephant behaviours have changed with wildlife conservation initiatives in Mukogodo Forest. By relying on the experiences, observations, and understandings of Maasai pastoralists this project will provide insights into how changing human-nonhuman interactions associated with wildlife conservation initiatives can affect the material and ontological existence of dryland forests. 

Human Geography

Prof Peter Kraftl (GEES) is best known for his research on children’s geographies, and especially for research into the emotions, affects, materialities and practices that make up their everyday lives. He also publishes on geographies of education and architecture. Peter is part of the UK Treescapes Funded project "Voices of the Future" - working with children and young people to re-imagine Treescapes. 

Dr Sophie Hadfield-Hill  (GEES) is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Birmingham.  Principally a Children’s Geographer, Sophie’s expertise is children and young people’s everyday experiences of urban change in diverse contexts. 

Peter and Sophie previously supervised PhD student Dr Polly Jarman who researched 'Young people’s experiences of and learning in urban woodlands'

Dr Phil Jones (GEES) is a cultural geographer who focuses on issues related to the city. Phil gave a lecture entitled Rethinking nature in cities | Geography Education Online as part of the Geography Education Online website created by the Geographical Association (GA).   This lecture explores two case studies of how working with the natural environment can bring great benefits to those living in cities. The first example examines the role of sustainable drainage in flood mitigation. The second examines the health benefits created by exposure to green spaces. 

Ecosystem Engineering

Dr Joshua Larsen (GEES) is a Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography. His research interests include:  Hydrology, ecohydrology, biogeochemistry, water quality, and palaeohydrology. Josh has a particular interest in the natural ecosystem engineering by beavers. He is part of the Future of UK Treescapes funded project, led by the University of Manchester, called 'Creative Adaptive Solutions for Treescapes Of Rivers (CASTOR)' identifies that over 200,000 km of rivers and streams in England, with potential for restoring riparian woodland, present a substantial opportunity for meeting the UK government’s goal of 17% tree cover by 2050, achieving carbon storage and sequestration, water quality amelioration, habitat creation and flood prevention in the process. CASTOR will explore and provide solutions to the challenges that this restoration might present. CASTOR will identify unique opportunities through which riparian woodland (along rivers and waterways) can promote and protect natural and cultural heritage, deliver nature recovery through wilder, better connected landscapes, and build climate resilience.

Josh previously supervised PhD student, Dr Ben Howard (GEES) who looked at the contribution of instream wood to streambed organic matter controls on microbial metabolic activity. 

 2024 Urban and interdisciplinary v2