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. 

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 facilitates the Trees Design and Action Group (TDAG) in the Midlands.  TDAG 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 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.

Prof Rob MacKenzie and Dr James Levine's research 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.'

BIFoR is part of the West Midlands Air Quality Improvement Programme at the University of Birmingham and the Centre for Urban Wellbeing

Dr Charles Goode 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 Andrea Frank 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  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 and Prof Lee Chapman

Postgraduate research 

Deanne Brettle is looking at tree establishment. 
Naya Desai 
is looking at quantifying ecosystem services from urban trees.
Yanzhi Lu is studying the potential of urban trees to remove air pollutants, carbon and heat. 

Cultural Research

Prof John Holmes 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. Prof Holmes was a supervisor for Forest Edge graduate Dion Dobrzynski -  'Forest Ecology in Fantasy Fiction: Mobilising the Imaginative Resources of Fantasy Fiction for Living with Forests' and 'Fantasy Fiction and Forest Ecology
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 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 work focuses on British Romanticism, and the literature and intellectual history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Prof Harris and Dr Ward are supervisors for Forest Edge student Thomas Kaye - 'Reading the Grain: The Patterns of Wood Rewilding Contemporary Prose & Poetry.'


Dr Louise Hardwick 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 and Kapil Subramanian is 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 

BIFoR has close links to the Birmingham Institute for Sustainability and Climate Action (BISCA) and the West Midlands Air Quality Improvement Programme at the University of Birmingham. 

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. 

Prof Robert Elliott, for example, is a Professor of Economics, 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

Prof Fiona Nunan (International Development Department) & Dr Brock Bersaglio (International Development Department) supervise PhD student Harriett Croome (see below). 

Doctoral Researchers 


Maria Teresa Gonzalez - 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

Harriet Croome - 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. 

Previous Doctoral Research 

Vilane Goncalves-Sales, had been looking at satellite monitoring of deforestation and the role of clouds in Maranhão, and is now working for the World Trade Institute.  Vilane was supervised Prof Robert Elliott and Prof Eric Strobl.  

Human Geography

Dr Sophie Hadfield-Hill 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. 

Dr Phil Jones is a cultural geographer who focuses on issues related to the city. Dr Phil Jones gave a recent 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. 

Professor Peter Kraftl 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.

Previous Doctoral Research 

Polly Jarman (graduated 2022) - 'Young people’s experiences of and learning in urban woodlands'


Ecosystem Engineering including the CASTOR research project 

Dr Joshua Larsen is a Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography. His research interests include:  Hydrology, ecohydrology, biogeochemistry, water quality, and palaeohydrology. Dr Larsen has a particular interest in the natural ecosystem engineering by beavers. He was recently part of a successful bid to the Treescapes UK fund led by the University of Manchester. The project '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.

Dr Joshua Larsen and Prof Phillip Davies (EPS) supervise PhD student's Bruno Santos and Dee Phillips who are looking into whether forest filters can help solve our wastewater crisis.  
Dee Phillips: Greenhouse Gases and Water Treatment with Trees/ Plants

Recent Publications 

Larsen A., Lane S. and Larsen J. (2020). Dam busy: beavers and their influence on the structure and function of river corridor hydrology, geomorphology, biogeochemistry and ecosystems.