Richard Payne
Senior Lecturer in Environmental Geography



I am a broad-ranging Environmental Scientist interested in environmental change and environmental management. My research combines modern experimental and observational studies with the palaeo-environmental record, focussing particularly on climate change and pollution. Much of my work concerns peatlands as both the most important terrestrial carbon store by area and a valuable archive of past environmental change. My work address past changes in peatlands and future threats. Some recurring themes in my work have included the impacts of air pollution (N, S and O3), past and future climate change, the impacts of volcanic eruptions, peatland forestry and restoration ecology.



I was appointed as a Lecturer in Environmental Geography in 2015 after a peripatetic academic career thus-far spanning twelve institutions in seven countries.



Richard's research interests can be divided amongst three overlapping themes.

Peatlands and climate

Peat develops due to an imbalance between production and decomposition. Decomposition is slow in the acidic, anoxic environment of a peatland and so organic remains slowly accumulate over time as peat. This slow and steady accretion of organic matter has a couple of interesting implications. Peat is about 50% carbon so global peatlands have accumulated a very large amount of carbon through the Holocene, around 4-600Gt. This carbon store may be imperilled by human activity, either directly through poor land management, or indirectly through factors such as air pollution and climate change. The characteristics of slow decomposition and continuous accretion of material also make peatlands an excellent medium for palaeoecology. We can analyse the preserved remains of the organisms which once grew on the surface of the bog and use changes in their abundance through a peat core to investigate how the peatland and its wider environment changed over time.


His interests in peatlands and climate change started from a palaeoecological perspective with the need to reconstruct past climate change in order to understand current climate variability and predict the future. His palaeoecological research has focussed on the reconstruction of Holocene climate change from peats in Europe and North America, and the uncertainties underlying these reconstructions. Key to much of his work has been testate amoebae; a group of charismatic microorganisms which we know respond to climate change. Current research is investigating the long-term accumulation of carbon by peatlands and the links to climate change.


More recently his interest in peatlands and climate has expanded into contemporary systems. Since 2010 with colleagues from Manchester Metropolitan and Edge Hill Universities he has worked on a field climate manipulation experiment on a bog in Wales. Over this time they have observed considerable change in plant and microbial communities and changes to carbon cycling. 

Applied palaeoecology


Richard's background has spanned ‘neo’-ecology and palaeoecology so he is particularly interested in both how ecological studies can inform palaeoecological reconstruction and how we can use palaeoecological data to address questions about contemporary ecosystems. One aspect of this is the use of palaeoecological techniques to address issues in environmental management. For instance, in current research they are using tephrochronology and carbon accumulation reconstructions to address the impact of conifer afforestation on peatlands.

Air pollution impacts

Another area of interest is the ecological impact of air pollutants. Richard has worked on the impacts of ozone, sulphur and particularly nitrogen deposition on plant and microbial communities. His particular contributions have been in using spatial gradients to identify air pollution impacts in real-world landscapes. He has been involved in three consultancy projects for UK national conservation agencies on these topics. He also have interests in volcanogenic pollution including his PhD research on volcanic impacts on peatlands.


Some current projects are investigating:

-The management of nitrogen deposition in Scotland (NERC funded).

-The impacts of afforestation on peatland carbon (Leverhulme funded).

-Bridging the gap between experimental and palaeoecological studies of peatland response to climate change (Leverhulme funded).

-The achievability of the recent Scottish policy of Peatland Edge Woodland (NERC funded).

-Synthesising current evidence and future needs for the management of afforested peatlands (NERC funded).

-Russian peatlands and climate change (Royal Society and Russian Science Foundation).

All of these projects involve a large group of students and collaborators at York and elsewhere.

Research group(s)

Dr Maria Gehrels (PDRA)

Dr Geoff Richards (Associate Lecturer)

Tom Sloan (PhD student)

Will Jessop (PhD student)

Luke Andrews (PhD student)

Alexandra Burkitt (PhD student)

Lucy McMahon (PhD student, co-supervisor)

Angela Creevy (PhD student, co-supervisor: Edge Hill University)

Martin Kay (PhD student, co-supervisor: Manchester Metropolitan University)

Henk Pieter Sterk (PhD student, co-supervisor: University of the Highlands and Islands)

Available PhD research projects

I welcome enquiries from PhD students with their own funding. Funded PhD projects are advertised on this website and through



  • Environmental Geography Research (1st year)
  • Environmental Field Project (Environmental Science and Environmental Geography)(1st year)
  • Physical Geography (1st year)
  • Environmental Hazards (3rd year)
  • IPCC science (4th year)
  • Current Research in Environmental Geography (4th year)

Payne, Richard

Contact details

Dr Richard Payne
Department of Environment and Geography
University of York
YO10 5NG

Tel: 01904 324960