Project highlights

  • Work with citizen scientists on a project leading the creation of biodiverse urban forests of the future  
  • Combine on-site ecological monitoring with remotely sensed data to quantify and model ecosystem services of these forests into the future. 
  • Investigate if the creation of “old wood” features in young forest plantations can help increase biodiversity 


The UK government has announced targets to plant 30,000 hectares of trees per year by 2024 as part of its strategy to reach net carbon zero by 2050. Creating a sound evidence base of how to create and manage these plantations is essential. This project will work with citizen scientists, industry and non-governmental organisations to provide data to maximise the ecosystem benefits of these forests of the future. 

Increasing forest cover in urban areas is notoriously difficult due to limited space and competing interests in space usage. However, the potential benefits of high-quality green infrastructure for people and the environment are well documented. Tiny Forest has addressed many of these issues by planting tennis-court-sized forests across the urban landscape, and today a network of over 200 Tiny Forests have been planted across the UK, 94 of which are in the West Midlands. The forests follow the Miyawaki method of afforestation where all four forest layers planted simultaneously and at high density, and so is purported to accelerate the time to mature forest and ecosystem service provision.   To test these assumptions Tiny Forest engages local communities in collecting data on 4 ecosystem services provided by the forests: carbon storage, biodiversity support, flood mitigation and thermal comfort; concurrently connecting people with nature and raising environmental awareness.  

This project will combine on-site monitoring of the impacts of Tiny Forest creation on measures of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning with using satellite Earth observation data to estimate and model ecosystem service provision of these forests under future climate scenarios.  

In addition to understanding how Tiny Forests are currently contributing to urban ecosystem service provision this project will also set out to investigate whether accelerating the ageing processes within these forests can increase their biodiversity.  Up to 50 % of woodland biodiversity is associated with deadwood, a sparse feature in young urban forests. Using a paired site design, the second component of this project will investigate how methods of deadwood enrichment can increase biodiversity in young plantations. 


University of Leicester


  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability
  • Organisms and Ecosystems


Project investigator

Dr Moya Burns, University of Leicester, [email protected]


Professor Heiko Balzter, University of Leicester, [email protected] 

Claire Narraway, Earthwatch Europe, [email protected] 

How to apply


Ninety-four Tiny Forests have been planted across the West Midlands with almost identical size and, tree composition. As such, factors affecting Tiny Forest ecosystem service provision primarily include shape, management, and surrounding area.  

  1. Citizen science monitoring of the forests focuses on four ecosystem services (methods can be found at –invertebrates  
  2. Carbon capture – mortality, height and DBH of 100 trees representative of forest composition. 
  3. Flood mitigation – soil colour, texture, compaction, infiltration rate. 
  4. Thermal comfort – weather station 

Remotely sensed data will be used to estimate and model ecosystem service provision of the forests under future climate scenarios by creating very-high resolution land cover maps from Sentinel-2 and Planet imagery, coupling this data stream to the InVEST ecosystem services models. The experimental results from the impact of deadwood enrichment on ecosystem services will be used in models of future regional woodland management scenarios using InVEST 

Training and skills

Students will be awarded CENTA2 Training Credits (CTCs) for participation in CENTA2-provided and ‘free choice’ external training. One CTC equates to 1⁄2 day session and students must accrue 100 CTCs across the three years of their PhD.  

This PhD project will provide you with training in ecosystem service modelling, field experimental design and citizen science approaches. You will have opportunities to attend and lead citizen science engagement events. You will develop experience of how an NGO operates through attendance at meetings and involvement in the Tiny Forest team, including undertaking a placement at Earthwatch Europe and as a member of the Miyawaki Research Network (in MiRN). 

Partners and collaboration

As part of the PhD you will work with Earthwatch as your L1/L2 partner and spend a minimum of three months undertaking a work placement with them. Earthwatch is an environmental NGO and one of the most-prominent global backers of citizen-science-supported environmental research. For over forty years, Earthwatch has delivered a unique citizen-science model to empower individuals, students, teachers, and corporate fellows to contribute to critical field-research to understand nature’s response to change. Our mission is to engage people worldwide in scientific research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment. Your collaboration with Earthwatch will develop your skills in working with local communities, understanding of the complex dynamics around urban green infrastructure creation, and engaged environmental research. 

Further details

Further details on how to contact the supervisor for this project and how to apply for this project can be found here: 

For any enquiries related to this project please contact Dr Moya Burns: [email protected] .

To apply to this project: 

  • You must include a CENTA studentship application form, downloadable from: CENTA Studentship Application Form 2024. 
  • You must include a CV with the names of at least two referees (preferably three) who can comment on your academic abilities. 
  • Please submit your application and complete the host institution application process via: scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the “Apply for NERC CENTA Studentship” button.  Your CV can uploaded to the Experience section of the online form, the CENTA application form 2024 can be uploaded to the Personal Statement section of the online form.  Please quote CENTA 2024-L7-CENTA2-GENE4-BURN  when completing the application form. 

Applications must be submitted by 23:59 GMT on Wednesday 10th January 2024. 

Possible timeline

Year 1

Gather your baseline ecosystem service data across your Tiny Forest research sites by working with Earthwatch, local communities and citizen scientists. Model how local and regional geographic factors are influencing the current ecosystem service provision of Tiny Forests. Set up your deadwood enrichment experiments in Tiny Forest sites with paired controls.

Year 2

Monitor the impact of your deadwood enrichment experiment on ecosystem service provision. Model how future climate scenarios may impact ecosystem service provision across Tiny Forests.

Year 3

Collect second-year of data on your deadwood enrichment experiment and incorporate results into models of future ecosystem service provision by Tiny Forests.

Further reading

Earthwatch Tiny Forests information, available at: 

Guo, X.F., 2018. Effects of different forest reconstruction methods on characteristics of understory vegetation and soil quality. Applied Ecology and Environmental Research, 16(6), pp.7501-7517. 

Rayner, M., Balzter, H., Jones, L., Whelan, M. and Stoate, C., 2021. Effects of improved land-cover mapping on predicted ecosystem service outcomes in a lowland river catchment. Ecological Indicators, 133, p.108463. 

Sasaki, T., Ishii, H. and Morimoto, Y., 2018. Evaluating restoration success of a 40-year-old urban forest in reference to mature natural forest. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 32, pp.123-132. 

Schirone, B., Salis, A. and Vessella, F., 2011. Effectiveness of the Miyawaki method in Mediterranean forest restoration programs. Landscape and Ecological Engineering, 7, pp.81-92.