Prof George Holmes

Prof George Holmes


I am interested in biodiversity conservation as a social and political phenomenon. This involves studying two grops of people - conservationists, and people whose lives interact with conservation projects, particularly protected areas - and the interactions between them.


  • Curriculum Redefined Lead

Research interests

My research studies conservation, conservationists, and the interaction between conservation projects, particularly protected areas, and local communities. I am interested in how conservation projects, particularly protected areas (national parks, reserves) interact with communities living nearby, how conservation regulations may affect local people's lives and livelihoods, how effectively protected areas can change the behaviour of local people, and how local people can in turn shape protected area policies to their own liking. I am particularly interested in 'hidden' politics - the kind of politics that happens when a guard and local resident interact in the middle of the night in a forest, rather than the kind of thing that appears on the agenda of a planning meeting. I am also interested in how conservation projects come about - the combination of political, cultural and social factors that come together to create a national park or reserve, and which determine the aims, objectives and practices of that project. I am particularly interested in 'unconventional' conservation projects, such as privately protected areas. I have undertaken detailed field resarch in the Dominican Republic and Chile, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Leverhulme Trust.

I am increasingly focusing on new, novel and resurgent forms of conservation, and what this says about biodiversity conservation as a social and political phenomenon. I have several projects exploring rewilding across Europe, the ideas and actors behind it, and how they interact with rural residents. I find both the ecology and the cultural and political side of re-wilding fascinating. Our work here looks at how people understand the wild and rewilding, how rewilding projects come about, and how people and 'the wild' might co-exist.

I consider conservationists themselves an interesting and important topic of research. With colleagues from Cambridge and Edinburgh, I have a project on the future of conservation, which explores what conservationists think about key debates within conservation. We are keen to move debates about what conservation is, and what it should be, beyond exchanges of opinion pieces written in scholarly journals by established figures, and into something more open, democratic, and reflective of the breadth of conservation.

One of the things that I like most about my research is that it is very interdisciplinary and I find myself mixing ideas from human and physical geography, anthropology, ecology, history, and other areas, which all combine to produce some really interesting results. I feel that an interdisciplinary perspective is essential for any academic, as insularity leads to stagnation of ideas, but perhaps more importantly because successful conservation depends on looking at biodiversity not just using ecology and biological science, but also from a social, cultural and political perspective.This is reflected in my collaborations with everyone from geneticists to literature scholars.

I currently serve as an editor for Conservation Biology and Oryx

Current PhD students

  • Rachel Palfrey (co-supervised with Johan Oldekop, University of Manchester - funded by the Economic and Social Research Council
    • Environmental and Social impacts of private protected areas in Latin America
  • Hanna Pettersson (co-supervised with Claire Quinn and Steve Sait, Faculty of Biological Sciences) - funded by the Natural Environment Research Council
    • The Future of Human Carnivore Relations in Europe
  • Silvia Olvera Hernández (co-supervised with Julia Martin-Ortega, Maria Azahara Mesa Jurado, Ecosur Mexico, and Paula Novo) - funded by Conacyt
  • Joseph Hamm (co-supervised with Julia Martin-Ortega) – funded by the Economic and Social Research Council

Graduated PhD students

  • Linas Svolkinas (co-supervised with Simon Goodman, Faculty of Biological Sciences) 2016-2021- funded by the Natural Environment Research Council
    • Biological and socio-political aspects of the conservation of Caspian Seal
  • Jonathan Carruthers-Jones 2015-2019 Funded by Marie Slowdoska Curie ITN in Environmental Humanities
    • Improving decision making on wild land conservation in Europe through analysis of human perceptions of wild spaces and species
  • Thomas Smith (co-supervised with Jouni Paavola) 2014-2018 - funded by Leeds Anniversary Research Scholarship
    • Private actors and market approaches to biodiversity management in Latin America
  • Caroline Ward (co-supervised by Lindsay Stringer) 2014-2018 - funded by the Natural Environment Research Council
    • Changing protected area governance, livelihoods and ecosystem services in Madagascar
  • Will Wright (co-supervised at Department of Geography, University of Sheffield) 2011-2015 - funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council
    • Living with the tsunami: Contested knowledges, spatial politics and everyday practices in South East Sri Lanka
<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD, Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester
  • MRes, Human Geography, University of Edinburgh
  • BSc, Geography, University of Edinburgh
  • Senior Fellow, Higher Education Academy

Professional memberships

  • Royal Geographical Society / Institute of British Geographers
  • Association of American Geographers
  • Society for Conservation Biology
  • World Commission on Protected Areas

Student education

I spend a lot of time working on student education, which I greatly enjoy. I’m currently the programme leader for the MSc Environment and Develoment degree. I was previously Director of Student Education in the school, with responsibility for all aspects of taught student education on the school's undergraduate and masters degrees, from outreach and admissions through to graduation and alumni. Prior to that, I was programme leader for the BSc Sustainability and Environmental Management degree. I find teaching to be one of the more enjoyable parts of my job. I teach at all levels, from first year undergraduate to MSc. Good teaching is a craft, and an important one to master. Lectures should not be about talking for an hour or two on a subject, but about introducing complex ideas in an approachable way, pushing students to develop their own understanding, challenging their ideas and making them think.


I’m a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Research groups and institutes

  • Environment and Development
  • Social and Political Dimensions of Sustainability
  • Sustainability Research Institute
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>