My research focuses on human-environment relationships, particularly:
I take an interdisciplinary approach, grounded in systems thinking, using theories and both qualitative and quantitative methods from the natural and social sciences. A systems focus helps my work to develop solutions to specific problems while recognising the complexity of the world's sustainable development challenges and the trade-offs and opportunities created by change. My research projects commonly involve big interdisciplinary teams that bring together researchers from around the world, from disciplines such as geography, ecology, biology, economics development studies, politics, business and management, international relations, agricultural sciences and engineering. My work is published in a range of world-leading journals across multiple fields (see Google Scholar profile for details)
Despite the different development contexts around the world, many of the challenges and the underlying root causes of change are similar across continents. Most of my field work is in the Global South. I have worked and travelled in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe and the Americas, visiting more than 110 countries and collecting their flags along the way. My work is anchored in strong partnerships with in-country researchers at local universities, international institutions and NGOs. I involve MSc and PhD students from my study areas as research assistants and translators, helping to build their capacity and skills. I also participated in the inaugural Homeward Bound Project women in science leadership programme which took me to Antarctica in December 2016.
In 2017, I won a Wolfson Merit Award from the Royal Society, and in 2013, was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize for my work on environmental change and sustainable development in drylands. In 2015 I was presented with a Women of Achievement Award while working at the University of Leeds.
I am motivated by making a difference through my work, and to do this I build strong relationships with research users across levels, from the local to the international. At an international level, my research has informed policy interventions through e.g. the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). I was a Coordinating Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Regional Assessment for Africa (2018), as well as Lead Author for the IPBES Land Degradation and Restoration Assessment (2018), and a member of the IPBES Expert Group on Policy Support Tools and Methodologies. I was a Lead Author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on Climate Change and Land (2019) and for the IPCC's 6th Assessment Report, where I am currently responsible for sections of chapter 8 on Poverty, Livelihoods and Sustainable Development, and co-lead Cross-Chapter Paper 3 on Deserts, Desertification and Semi-arid Areas.
I am a member of the Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) Initiative working group on Options and Pathways to Action and have led capacity building activities on the costs and benefits of different land management options in locations including Botswana, India, Kenya, Rwanda and Somalia. I chaired the Independent Task Force of the CGIAR’s Research Programme on Dryland Systems, which was commissioned to develop a global research in development programme to achieve sustainable livelihoods for dryland populations that depend on agriculture.
I currently sit on the International Scientific Advisory Board of the Centre for Dryland Agriculture at Bayero University Kano, Nigeria, one of the Africa Centres of Excellence supported by the World Bank, as well as being on the International Advisory Board for Centro de Estudos do Ambiente e do Mar (Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences), Universidade de Aveiro, Portugal. I am an advisory board member for SUFINDA (sustainable finance and data), a UK-based organisation that facilitates acceleration and dissemination of research into climate and sustainable finance flows. At the University of York, I am a member of the Leverhulme Centre for Anthropocene Biodiversity, as well as being on the board of the York Environmental Sustainability Institute.
I hold a BSc in Physical Geography (2000), an MSc in Environmental Monitoring and Assessment in Drylands (2001), and a PhD in Geography (2005), all from the University of Sheffield. I completed a teaching award qualification (2009) and am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
I previously worked at the University of Leeds (2007-2020) where I was co-Director and then Director of the Sustainability Research Institute from 2011-2014. Prior to my post at Leeds, I worked at the University of Manchester and the University of Sheffield.
I have supervised 22 PhD students to successful completion and mentored 14 postdocs. I was a Senior Scientific Mentor on the GIZ Young Professionals Programme on Soils and Sustainable Land Management (2015-2017), and mentored an IPBES Young Fellow via the IPBES Africa Regional Assessment.
My research is international, and uses interdisciplinary approaches at the nexus of environmental sustainability and international development, working largely in dryland, mountain and forest environments, including mangroves. My research is conceptually anchored in intellectual areas including global environmental governance, political ecology and socio-ecological systems science, and broadly cross-cuts the following themes:
I sit on grant selection panels for several UK research funders and am an international peer reviewer for funders in Europe, North America, Australasia and Africa, including the UK research councils, Royal Society, US National Science Foundation, European Research Council, Swiss National Science Foundation, International Foundation for Science (Sweden), Marsden Fund, New Zealand Ministry for Science and Innovation, Georgia National Science Foundation, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, National Geographic, Slovenian Research Council and others. I was reviewer for the ESRC-AHRC international benchmark review of British Human Geography (2012) and have sat on external appointment committees for several Universities in the UK, Switzerland, Sweden and Ireland.
I am a reviewer for >50 ISI listed journals, and in the past, held journal editorial board positions for Resources (MDPI), Food Security and Land Degradation and Development.
I have undertaken various media and outreach activities, e.g. interviews as a scientific expert for BBC TV, Carbon Brief, ITV, Kent Messenger, BBC Radio, Japan Times, Canada Mail and Guardian, Reuters and Scidev.net.
I regularly organise sessions at major scientific meetings e.g. the EGU (2014), Resilience Conference (2014) and Ecosystem Services Partnership Africa conference (2019); policy events e.g. UNCCD Scientific Conferences (2013; 2015), UNCCD Science Day (2019); and have given invited seminars in both the UK and overseas; as well as keynotes at prestigious meetings, e.g. Royal Society Theo Murphy meeting (2019); FAO Global Soil Erosion symposium (2019).
I have externally examined 16 PhD theses in both the UK and overseas, and examined taught MSc programmes at University of Reading, and BA/BSc programmes at University of East Anglia.