Applied Research Collaborative (ARC) PhD Studentship

Published: 11 May 2023

Human impacts on soil health in upland managed and rough grazing land: Exploring variability emerging from human-soil interactions at the Finzean Estate (Scotland)

Human impacts on soil health in upland managed and rough grazing land: Exploring variability emerging from human-soil interactions at the Finzean Estate (Scotland)

  • Start date: 01 October 2023
  • End date: 31 March 2027
  • Application Deadline: 12 June 2023
  • Interview dates to be scheduled with candidates for June 2023

About the Project

Healthy soils are critical to a sustainable future. Human impacts on soil health in intensively farmed and managed landscapes are widely acknowledged. However, the scales used in models of landscape processes which affect soil health are often too coarse to capture them. This project investigates the ongoing impacts of past human actions which reshaped the land’s surface (creating local microtopography) on soil health. Its results will help to build new models of how landscapes and healthy soils are formed, informing innovative approaches to farmland management in response to contemporary environmental and climate crises.

The project will use the upland grazing areas of the Finzean Estate in Deeside as a study area, working in partnership with the landowners and estate managers. To investigate spatial and temporal scales and the combined impacts of human activities past and present in this landscape type, the project will combine archaeological information, providing insights into broad patterns of past human activities over 1000s of years, with agricultural data, providing essential information on recent management, and with field-based data to characterise local topography, vegetation and soils.

Research questions include:

  • What are the scales at which soil health varies in intensively managed (anthropogenically altered) landscapes?
  • Do the local impacts of human actions, taken in aggregate, measurably affect soil health, viewed at different scales, e.g. a field, Estate, or catchment scale?
  • What are the timescales (e.g. 10s, 100s, 1000s of years) over which the local impacts of human actions persist in having measurable impacts on soil health?
  • Can accounting for short-scale spatial variability in soil properties related to past human activity over long timescales improve the accuracy, sensitivity, and robustness of assessments of soil health?

About the Team

This 3.5 year fully funded doctoral studentship is a collaboration between University of Glasgow, Abertay University and the James Hutton Institute. The project will be supervised by an interdisciplinary team of experts in soil science (Matt Aitkenhead and Malcolm Coull, James Hutton Institute), archaeological remote sensing (Rachel Opitz, University of Glasgow) and geotechnical engineering (Ehsan Jorat, Abertay University), in partnership with the Finzean Estate.

Where you’ll be based

The student will be registered at the University of Glasgow. Because this is a collaborative award, the successful candidate will be expected to spend time at both the Universities, JHI and the Finzean Estate.

The University of Glasgow is a World Top 70 University for Arts and Humanities (QS World Rankings, 2022). Archaeology at University of Glasgow provides a positive, inclusive and nurturing research culture, which has been recognised in our strong REF 2021 (Research Excellence Framework) results with two-thirds of environment and impact being recognised as 'world-leading' or 'internationally excellent'. Our staff’s diverse research interests are connected by a commitment to ‘engaged archaeology’, actively linking our study of the past to challenges today.  We pursue projects in digital archaeology, landscape archaeology, environmental archaeology, studies of material culture, and archaeological science, and have a strong track record of engagement in work in and about Scotland.

Abertay University is one of the fastest growing universities in the UK. In the latest Guardian University League Tables, Abertay University is ranked 8th in the UK in Civil Engineering among 60 institutes and 1st in Scotland. Abertay University has been named UK University of Year for Teaching Quality by The Times & Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021. The James Hutton Institute (based in Dundee and Aberdeen) is one of the largest environmental and agricultural research institutes in the UK, carrying out research in climate change, soil science, crop breeding, agronomy and many other topics.

The Finzean Estate, the focus of the project’s fieldwork, is a mixed livestock and arable working estate in Aberdeenshire. It is active in sustainability-oriented initiatives and accredited by the Wildlife Estates Scotland (WES) initiative.

What we’re looking for

Because this is an interdisciplinary project, it is expected that candidates will have some, but not all, of the skills and experience listed below. We strongly encourage candidates with experience in some of these areas and an interest to learn further skills and gain experience in another discipline to apply.


  • GIS (desirable)
  • UAV/drone flight (desirable)
  • 3D data processing (desirable)
  • Spatial statistics (desirable)
  • Driving licence (essential)


  • Archaeological fieldwork (desirable)
  • Soil survey work (desirable)
  • Soil lab analysis (desirable)
  • Stakeholder (farmer) engagement (desirable)
  • Lone working (desirable)
  • Track record of publication in related fields (desirable)


  • Independent and critical thinker
  • Effective communicator
  • Experienced collaborator
  • Ethically and socially aware

Details of Award

This is a Scottish Funding Council (SFC) Applied Research Collaborative Studentship (ARCS). It can be studied Full-time.

The award includes a stipend and fees at UKRI rates. For 2023/2024 the rates are set at: Stipend: £18,622 and Fees: £4,712

Further details 


  • This studentship is open to all UK (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 requirements), or
    • Have indefinite leave to remain or enter

Further guidance  

  • We want to encourage the widest range of potential candidates for this studentship and are committed to welcoming individuals from different backgrounds to apply. We particularly welcome applications from Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds as they are currently underrepresented at this level in this area.
  • Applicants should ideally have or expect to receive a relevant Masters-level qualification or be able to demonstrate equivalent relevant experience in a professional setting. Areas include, but are not limited to, Archaeological Science, Anthropology, Geography, Geosciences, Environmental Sciences, Soil Sciences, and Geotechnical Engineering.
  • Applicants must be able to demonstrate an interest in the archaeology sector and sustainability, together with enthusiasm for developing skills more widely in related areas.

All applicants must meet the AHRC’s academic criteria.

How to apply

Application is by covering letter, CV and online application form:

For informal enquiries please contact the primary supervisor, Rachel Opitz (

First published: 11 May 2023