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, Chile and Scotland, 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. We have created a version of the tool for use with organisations and classrooms.

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. For example, I’m working with some literary scholars, historians and geographers on a project looking at the conservation humanities, and what tells us about European national parks. I’m part of the Leverhulme Trust doctoral training centre on Extinction Studies, which involves disciplines from Anthropology to Zoology. I’m also part of CASCADE, a network of academic researchers sharing knowledge and expertise to support international biodiversity conservation.

I currently serve as an editor for Conservation Biology and Oryx

I’m a member of Natural England’s Species Reintroduction Task Force.

Current PhD students

  • Joseph Hamm (co-supervised with Julia Martin-Ortega) – funded by the Economic and Social Research Council
    • The effectiveness and social implications of economic incentives for conservation: a case study in Ruaha, Tanzania.
  • Serena Turton-Hughes (co-supervised with Chris Hassall, Faculty of Biological Sciences) – funded by Leverhulme Trust’s Extinction Studies programme
    • Bryophytes to branches: exploring dark extinctions through cultural, philosophical and biological significance of tree extinctions and the extinction of their epibionts
  • Sicily Fiennes (co-supervised with Chris Hassall, Faculty of Biological Sciences, and Tom Jackson, School of Media and Communication) – funded by Leverhulme Trust’s Extinction Studies programme 
    • Bird trade, species identification and machine learning, within the fields of extinction studies, conservation biology and political ecology
  • Valentina Fiasco (co-supervised with Susannah Sallu) – funded by the Economic and Social Research Council
    • Multispecies ethnography and human-elephant interactions in Tanzania
  • Luis Sánchez Soto (co-supervised with David Williams, with David Edwards, University of Sheffield, and Joelene Hughes, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) – funded by the Economic and Social Research Council
  • Molly Simmons (co-sueprvised with Stephen Whitfield) – funded by the Peter Sowerby Foundation
    • Landscape scale restoration of the UK uplands: negotiated visions of future upland landscapes
  • Pip Wilson (co-supervised with Claire Quinn, and Alison Dunn, Faculty of Biological Sciences) – funded by Leverhulme Trust’s Extinction Studies programme 
    • Species extinction, reintroduction, and human wellbeing
  • Helena Slater (University of Edinburgh, co-supervised with Janet Fisher and Aidan Keane, University of Edinburgh, and Chris Sandbrook, University of Cambridge) – funded by the Natural Environment Research Council

Graduated PhD students

  • Silvia Olvera Hernández (co-supervised with Julia Martin-Ortega, Paula Novo, and Maria Azahara Mesa Jurado, Ecosur Mexico) - funded by Conacyt
    • Performing values as a mechanism to explore local representation in environmental governance.
    • Silvia is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder, working on participatory understandings of wildfire in Yellowstone
  • Hanna Pettersson (co-supervised with Claire Quinn and Steve Sait, Faculty of Biological Sciences) 2018-22 – funded by the Natural Environment Research Council
    • The Future of Human Carnivore Relations in Europe
    • Hanna is currently working as a researcher for the Leverhulme Centre for Anthropocene Biodiversity, University of York, on human-carnivore interactions in northern Sweden/Sápmi
  • Rachel Palfrey (co-supervised with Johan Oldekop, University of Manchester) 2017-22 - funded by the Economic and Social Research Council
    • Environmental and Social impacts of private protected areas in Latin America
    • Rachel currently works in landscape recovery at Natural England
  • 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
    • Linas is now working as a researcher for the Conflict and Environment Observatory
  • 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
    • Jonathan is now a researcher on the AHRC-DfG Corridor Talk project
  • 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
    • Tom is now working in conservation and environmental policy for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • 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
    • Caroline is now working in conservation evaluation for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • 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
    • Will is now working as an evaluation manager for Sustrans, a sustainable transport NGO


<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 school’s lead for Curriculum Redefined. 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. I have also been programme leader for the BSc Sustainability and Environmental Management and the MSc Environment and Development degrees. 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

Current postgraduate researchers

<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>