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Community-based approaches to conservation and environmental governance; development practices and practitioners; equality, gender, social inclusion and environmental justice; reflective and embodied learning; political ecology; Nepal, Scotland and beyond

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Research Interests


Community-based approaches to conservation and environmental governance; development practices and practitioners; equality, gender and social inclusion and environmental justice; reflective and embodied learning; political ecology; qualitative research; Nepal, Scotland and beyond

Sam is a feminist political ecologist committed to environmental and social justice. She is a Senior Lecturer in Environment and Developmentat the University of Edinburgh, where she engages with amazing students whilst helping to run the MSc in Environment and Development. Her research explores the social relations involved in conservation and the politics of environment and development initiatives. Having trained in ecology and worked in conservation around the world for 10 years before returning to academia to complete a PhD, Sam is committed to building meaningful relationships with practitioners. Her academic interests have evolved around a number of themes:

Equality, gender & social inclusion, and learning in Nepal’s environmental governance and development practice

I am interested in questions of ‘participation’, ‘empowerment’, ‘equality’ and ‘inclusion’ and what those terms mean in reality for marginalised rural communities at the receiving end of development interventions (having spent a year with two such communities in the hills of Nepal for my PhD). I am increasingly interested in the perspectives and challenges of practitioners involved in the design and delivery of these interventions (in the capital Kathmandu), and the potential of ‘reflective learning’ in shifting practices and projects to something more ‘transformatory’ for the most marginalised. This theme brings together my PhD, GCRF Fellowship, a recent GCRF-SFC award and ESRC Impact Accelerator Account grant, and convening of a conference session at POLLEN 2020 which has led to a Guest Editor role for the Journal of Political Ecology for a Special Section 'Political Ecology of professional practice: plurality and possibilities in environmental goivernance' (due 2022).

‘Having a Blether’: Social relations in Scottish conservation

Through 5 years spent running a Masters fieldtrip to the Scottish Highlands I had the privilege of listening to a wide range of conservationists, land managers, NGOs and government authorities talk about their work, and I am fascinated by the social relations which drive conservation – including the importance of ‘having a blether’, as a conservationist once shared. I am particularly interested in the ‘informal’ spaces in which relations are built, the importance of particular personalities, and the relevance of past experiences and careers in promoting cooperation. I have conducted research into this theme independently, with collaborators through the ESCALE project, and through a number of conference sessions (including more broadly around the role of trust in environmental governance), and currently through a co-authored paper about the importance of listening in/for conservation.

Pedagogy and ‘fieldwork’

Having spent years living overseas conducting conservation work, I am intrigued by the importance of ‘fieldwork’ and embodied learning from/within a place. Connected to my teaching I have explored and written about student fieldwork at home in relation to energy use and about student fieldtrips to the global South. I am also interested in reflection on personal experiences more broadly, and the importance of positionality in learning and understanding – including with regard our own research topics - and have written about this in The Routledge Handbook on Livelihoods in the Global South (due 2022).  

Ethics & Collaboration: A ‘Politics of Care’

My academic interests and engagements are driven by a ‘politics of care’ (cf. Askins & Blazek 2018 Soc. & Cult. Geog), encompassing colleagues, collaborators, students and research communities. I have long been interested in the ethics of research – including how we might ‘give back’ to the communities with which we conduct research, something I wrote about during my PhD. I have convened conference sessions and spoken about the ethics of global research funding, such as the GCRF, and as Chair of the School of GeoSciences Ethics & Integrity Committee am keen to promote sharing of good ethical practice, such as through seminars and a blog that I convene. I am currently a part of the 'Ethical Action in Gloabl Research: a Toolkit' project. Given my early career outside of academia and in the natural sciences, I enjoy working in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary ways. Along with Clare Barnes we run the Edinburgh Environment and Development Network (a network of academics and practitioners) and in early 2020 held an event on interdisciplinarity for environmental change research.



  • Course Organiser: Understanding Environment & Development (PGGE11187) (PGT)
  • Course Organiser: Nepal fieldtrip (PGGE11232) (PGT)
  • Co-Director: MSc Environment & Development
  • [Chair of the Research Ethics & Integrity Committee = 2018-2022]


  • Nancy Chawawa: Why Do Smallholder Farmers Insist On Living In Flood Prone Areas? Understanding Self-Perceived Vulnerability And Dynamics Of Local Adaptation In Malawi (2018)
  • Tatianna Mello Pereira da Silva: Follow The Bottle:  Pet Recycling Economy And Waste Picker Empowerment In Brazil (2020)
  • Jiayen Lai: In pursuit of just forest governance: Unfolding the everyday practices of decision-making in Indonesia’s environmental impact assessment (2020)
  • Amitangshu Acharya: Political ecology of small things: the curious case of domestic water purifiers in Bhuj city, Gujarat, India (2022)
  • Jack Covey: Capturing multi-level bricolage in the design, implementation and outcome of the Forest & Farm Facility project, Ghana
  • Omar Saif: The role of trust in conserving biodiversity and reducing conservation conflict: A case-study in Nepal
  • Henry (Michael) Myers: Tenure Deliberation Networks and Discursive Production on (In)Equity in Indonesian Environmental Governance Projects
  • Peter Rowe: Faith in the Forest: Christianity, Conservation and Relationships in the Dakatcha Woodland, Kenya
  • Maureen Kinyanjui: Improving the Resilience of Human-Wildlife Coexistence Interventions in the Face of Rapid Social-Ecological change, Kenya
  • Elliot fisher: Dynamic Ecological and Social Processes Shaping the Highlands: The case of Tapia to Support Livelihoods and Conservation, Madagascar
  • Callum Leavey-Wilson: Understanding and ameliorating land use conflicts at a time of change in upland areas of Scotland



PhD Human Geography University of Edinburgh (2012)

  • Thesis: ‘Keeping Track of Nature: Interdisciplinary Insights for Participatory Ecological Monitoring’

MSc Natural Resource Management (Distinction) University of Edinburgh (2006)

  • Dissertation: ‘Masses of Moss: But how much and what is it worth? An investigation of the harvest and trade of wild moss in Scotland’

MSc Biodiversity & Conservation (Distinction) University of Leeds (2000)

  • Dissertation: ‘Seed dispersal in the Pacific Banyan Ficus prolixa on the Cook Islands: the effectiveness of frugivores as seed dispersers and the importance of seed disperser mutualisms’

BSc (Hons) Ecology & Environmental Science (First Class) University of Lancaster (1997)

  • Dissertation: ‘The potential of lichenometry in dating major flood events on Dartmoor’ 



Lecturer in Environment & Development University of Edinburgh (2017-present; 0.8FTE)

ESRC GCRF Postdoctoral Fellow University of Edinburgh (2017-2018; 0.5FTE)

Network Coordinator (PDRA) TEDDINET University of Edinburgh (2013-2016; 0.5FTE)

Teaching Fellow in Environment & Development University of Edinburgh (2012-2016; 0.2FTE)

Research Assistant (Ecology) Universities of Leeds, York (UK) & Wellington (New Zealand) (2004-2005)

Consultant Ecologist Environmental Advice Centre, UK (2003)

Research Coordinator (Forest Biodiversity Programme) Frontier, Tanzania (2001-2002)

Survey Assistant Somerset Environmental Records Centre, UK (1999)

Naturalist Guide Explorer’s Inn, Peru (1998)



External Examiner - Masters programmes in the University of East Anglia's School of Development

Higher Education Association – Fellow (2020)

RGS-IBG Participatory Geographies Research Group – Ordinary Committee Member (2019-present)

ESRC GCRF Peer Review Group Member (2016-present)

Technical Advisory Committee Plan Vivo (2016-2018)



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