Social and environmental impacts of private protected areas in Latin America


Contact Dr George Holmes to discuss this project further informally.

Project description


 Innovative approaches to understanding new forms of conservation governance for social and environmental benefits

Protected areas are a fundamental tool for the protection of biodiversity, ecosystems and the services they provide. Protected areas have predominantly been established by governmental agencies, but in recent years private actors (NGOs, business, individual philanthropists) have appropriated significant tracts of lands for conservation purposes. Their conservation outcomes and implications for people living in or around these “private protected areas” (PPAs) remain poorly understood and greatly understudied. Critically, there is little knowledge of whether they protect different kinds of places to other protected areas, and whether they have different outcomes for conservation objectives and local communities compared to protected areas under other forms of governance. A detailed study will increase our understanding of the extent and contribution to the conservation of PPAs. 

This PhD project has two interwoven objectives:

  1. Evaluate the geographical extent of PPAs globally and assess how much area they conserve.
  2. Evaluate the impact of private protected areas relative to protected areas under other forms of governance and to non-protected areas using at least two Latin American countries as case studies 

While some datasets on PPAs exist for some countries, objective 1 will be met by compiling original national scale datasets on PPA coverage with the support of our partner (World Land Trust) in countries in which they work, as well as socio-political information on the motivations behind the decision to create PPAs.

Objective 2 will combine these original spatial datasets with existing datasets from other countries and additional publically available environmental and livelihood data, and use state of the art analytical approaches to assess the relative outcome of PPA in terms of conservation and local livelihoods across a number of countries. Analytical approaches will include the use of econometric quasi-experimental designs that have been successfully used to evaluate the impact of more traditionally established protected areas on both conservation outcomes and community-scale social wellbeing. This project would expand on this previous work by being the first to apply these techniques to private protected areas and assess changes in human wellbeing at fine spatial scales, and by integrating socio-political contexts that might explain spatial variation in social and environmental outcomes into the analysis. 

The successful candidate would be part of a broader network of postgraduate researchers working on conservation governance and part of the University of Sheffield’s Conservation and Development Evaluation group, which focuses on conservation and development issues. The student would be able to take advantage of networking opportunities with other biodiversity conservation scholars within the White Rose universities and through the partnership with World Land Trust.

Entry requirements

Applications are invited from candidates with or expecting a minimum of a UK upper second class honours degree (2:1), and/or a Master's degree in the relevant subject area.

The post would suit a motivated student with interests in at least some of the following topics: conservation biology, sustainable development, spatial analysis and quantitative social science. Applicants should have a relevant undergraduate degree or Master’s degree, and knowledge of GIS and statistical data analysis. Experience of managing large datasets, tropical environments and their conservation would be helpful but not essential. Applicants without an appropriate MSc degree may be able to get funding to undertake a year of MSc study prior to commencing the PhD under ESRC 1+3 funding.

 If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University’s minimum English Language requirements.

How to apply

Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the university's website. Please state clearly in the research information section that the PhD you wish to be considered for is the ‘Social and environmental impacts of private protected areas in Latin America' as well as Dr George Holmes as your proposed supervisor.

We welcome scholarship applications from all suitably-qualified candidates, but UK black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers are currently under-represented in our Postgraduate Research community, and we would therefore particularly encourage applications from UK BME candidates. All scholarships will be awarded on the basis of merit.

If you require any further information please contact the Graduate School Office e:, t: +44 (0)113 343 1634.