Soil science


4 Years


Monday, December 7, 2020 - 00:00


Sustainable Agriculture Sciences


University of Bristol


Sustainable land-use and agricultural practises aim to reduce the introduction of excess nitrogen to soils and waterways whilst maintaining productivity to feed the increasing world population. However, transport of nitrogenous material from land continues to be problematic due to high levels of leached nitrate and emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.  

Elevated nitrate can prove problematic in abstracted drinking water, can result in eutrophic conditions and environmental degradation which affect fisheries, bathing waters and the usability of beaches, and may dramatically impact on the biodiversity within river, estuary and marine ecosystems. It is essential that inputs of nitrate from agricultural, wastewater and sewage treatment to water catchments and thus estuarine and coastal waters are managed effectively, and as such are included in the Nitrates, Water Framework and Marine Strategy Framework directives. Nitrous oxide is considered the third most important of the greenhouse gases. Emissions from humankind’s activities and through release from natural systems are accountable through the UK’s signature of the Kyoto protocol and, under the conditions of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the UK is obliged to contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gases.      

The biogeochemical cycling of nitrate is controlled by the actions of soil, sediment and water dwelling microbes. The most important pathway for nitrate removal (to nitrogen gas) is anaerobic denitrification but under the presence of small quantities of oxygen, nitrous oxide is produced. The process of nitrification converts ammonia to nitrate under oxygenated conditions also generating nitrous oxide. This project will provide detailed knowledge of key sources of nitrate entering the Tamar catchment, and the influence of environmental factors (e.g. local land use, season, extreme weather) on the removal of nitrate and production of nitrous oxide by nitrogen cycling microbes. A combination of molecular biology techniques (DNA extraction, quantitative PCR, sequencing) will be used to determine the abundance of denitrifying and nitrifying microbes along the Tamar, and this data compared to nitrate and nitrous oxide concentrations and nitrification and denitrification rate measurement to understand the key players and processes involved in both nitrate removal and nitrous oxide generation. Alongside the field data generation, an ecosystem model of oxygen-sensitive nitrogen cycling processes will also be used to further test the influence of environmental factors or stressors on nitrogen removal processes.     

Ultimately, this project will develop a tool kit to inform on sensitivities on the nitrogen cycle to anthropogenic and environmental pressures from farm to coast


Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Statement

We want to support diverse and inclusive work environments. We therefore welcome applications from individuals regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, gender, or disability status. We welcome applications from individuals who have previously studied at any recognised Higher Education Institute and from a range of career paths (please refer to the SWBio DTP academic criteria for eligibility), including individuals who have previously trained in the sciences and are wanting to return to scientific research.

We particularly encourage applications from BAME* and mature (this is classed as 30+ years) individuals as these backgrounds are currently underrepresented within our student cohort.


Applicants for a studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have a Master’s degree or have significant relevant non-academic experience.

In addition, due to the strong mathematical component of the taught course in the first year and the quantitative emphasis in our projects, a minimum of a grade B in A-level Maths or an equivalent qualification or experience is required.

Equivalent qualifications/experience

Physics A-level (grade B and above)

Undertaking units as part of your degree that have a significant mathematical component*

*Significant mathematical component examples include; maths, statistics, bioinformatics.

Applicants must ensure they highlight their Maths background within their application and to upload any supporting evidence.


UKRI have recently updated their policy for funded studentships which starts from the 2021/2022 academic year.

IMPORTANT: Please refer to the UKRI Full Eligibility Criteria alongside the information provided below.

Home students

Fully-funded studentships are available for Home students.  To be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or

Have settled status, or

Have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirement) or,

Have indefinite leave to remain or enter

International students

If you do not meet the above criteria, you will be classed as an International student.

A very limited number of funded studentships are available for International applicants, and these may only be available through some of our partners.  Further details about how to apply to the SWBio DTP will be provided here in due course.

Therefore, we are currently unable to accept applications from applicants who would be classed as an International student, unless the studentship can be externally funded (including self-funded) to the DTP.  However, in the meantime, we do welcome you to approach supervisors of projects you may be interested in.

To be eligible for a fully-funded studentship, you must meet the below academic and residence criteria.

A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover:

- a stipend* (at the standard UKRI rate; £15,009 per annum for 2019-2020)

- research and training costs

- tuition fees (at the standard UKRI rate)

- additional funds to support fieldwork, conferences and a 3-month internship

To apply for this project, please complete our Rothamsted PhD Application Form which can be found in the downloads section of this advert.

All applications should include a fully completed application form, CV, a transcript of module marks and two references.

The reference form which will need to be completed by your referees can be found on the downloads section of this project. These references should be sent directly from the referees to Donna Fellowes; by the deadline: Midnight, 7th December 2020.