Gareth Clay


  • Room 1.050 Arthur Lewis Building

  • Department of Geography, School of Environment, Education and Development, University of Manchester, Oxford Road

    M13 9PL Manchester

    United Kingdom

Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

I welcome enquiries from well-qualified students wishing to carry out research in areas linked to my research interests. Please the section 'Postgraduate Opportunities' under 'Overview' for further details.

Personal profile

Research interests

I am a physical geographer working internationally across a variety of locations and processes, and at a range of spatial and temporal scales. Since my PhD I have principally worked on carbon biogeochemistry in peatlands, specifically the role of fire on carbon dynamics. However, in recent years, my research interests have broadened to encompass a series of funded projects working at the interface between physical geography, social sciences, and planning. This latest interdisciplinary research examines the interactions between people and their local environment.

Research interests

  • Fire - prescribed fire & wildfires in UK peatlands; charcoal production and degradation; perceptions of fire
  • Organic soils - peatlands, wetlands, mangroves
  • Organic matter cycling through soils - oxidative ratio and carbon oxidation state
  • Urban green infrastructure

Selection of Research Projects since 2014

2023 - 2025: Sphagnum moss on the hills (SMOOTH). Funded by Faculty of Humanities Strategic Investment Fund

2022 - 2024: Disturbance and Restoration of Metal Contaminated Peatlands ( Funded by NERC Global Partnership Seedcorn Fund (NE/X002756/1). PI. 

2021 – 2025: Maximising ecosystem services in urban environments (MEaSURE, Funded by NERC (NE/W003120/1). Co-I. 

2021 – 2022: Uplandia: Systems modelling for evidence-informed peatland policy. Funded by Defra/Natural England. Co-I.

2020 – 2024: Towards a UK fire danger rating system: Understanding fuels, fire behaviour and impacts ( Funded by NERC (NE/T003553/1). PI.

2017 – 2021: Towards a Fire Early Warning System for Indonesia (TOFEWSI, Funded by Newton Fund – DIPI (NE/P014801/1). Co-I.

2017 – 2018: Characterizing ‘blue carbon’ dynamics in tropical mangroves. Funded by University of Manchester-Chinese University of Hong Kong Research Fund award. Co-PI.

2016 – 2018Green Growth: Increasing resilience in cities through the delivery of green infrastructure-based solutions. Funded by NERC (NE/N017498/1). Co-I.

2016 – 2017: Restoring the Function and Resilience of Ecosystems on St Helena (REFRESH). Funded Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Environment and Sustainability Grant. PI

2014: Is the terrestrial sink of greenhouses gases going to change? Measuring the oxidative ratio of Scandinavian peatlands. Funded by Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Peter Fleming Award. PI



Gareth Clay is a Reader in Physical Geography with research interests in upland peats, the effects of fire on ecosystems and the role soils play in global cycling of carbon. Check out the 'Research and projects' tab for more details. 

2021 - present: Reader in Physical Geography, School of Environment, Education and Development

2018: Ida Pfeiffer Professor, Faculty of Earth Sciences, Geography and Astronomy, University of Vienna

2018 - 2021: Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, School of Environment, Education and Development

2012 - 2018: Lecturer in Physical Geography, School of Environment, Education and Development

2009 - 2012: Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University

2006 - 2009: PhD, The Impacts of Heather and Grassland Burning in the Uplands: Creating Sustainable Strategies, Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University

2003 - 2006: BSc (Hons) Geology, Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University.

Memberships of committees and professional bodies

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Member of European Geosciences Union

Member of International Association for Wildland Fire


Postgraduate Opportunities

I welcome enquiries from well-qualified students wishing to carry out research in areas linked to my research interests.

I currently have a number of specific PhD research topics that I am keen to develop with motivated students:

  • Peat fires and their impacts on heavy metal mobilisation: many of the recent wildfires in the UK and across the Northern Hemisphere have occurred on peatland soils that are often contaminated by industrially derived pollutants e.g. lead, arsenic. How does the combustion of peat during smouldering peat fires affect the mobility of these pollutants in the terrestrial and aquatic environments? 
  • Charcoal in the Holocene record: the presence charcoal in the quaternary record is often used as a measure of wildfire in past landscapes (e.g. charcoal counts to infer wildfire activity). However, are these signatures truly a function of charcoal forming processes or are they modified by post-formation processes (e.g. transportation, burial)? 
  • Perceptions of UK wildfires: The UK has an underreported wildfire problem (see for more details), though there has been increasing recognition over recent years. There is a strong and growing body of work on the physical processes and environmental impacts of wildfires in the UK, but relatively little work has been carried out using social science approaches. What are the perceptions of wildfires in the UK and how are they shaped by media narratives? 

Please feel free to contact me to discuss any ideas you might have in these areas

Current Postgraduate Researchers

Aisling O'Rourke (2023 - 2026) "Fire safety and energy poverty: Tackling a hidden injustice" (with Prof Stefan Bouzarovski and Dr Morag Rose [University of Liverpool]). Funded by ESRC-CASE award.  

Oliver Bignell (2022 - 2025) "Anecdotal Anthropocenes: An interdisciplinary investigation into the role of experiential knowledge in sensing wildfires" (with Dr Nat O'Grady and Dr Aurora Fredriksen). Funded by ESRC-CASE award. 

Sneha Mendiratta (2022 - 2026) "Use of social media data to analyse Anthropogenic Feedback for Fire Response: A Hybrid Neural Network Approach" (with Prof Sarah Lindley and Dr Riza Theresa Batista-Navarro). Funded by EPSRC. 

Recently completed 

Oscar Kennedy-Blundell (2016 - 2020) "Pyrogenic carbon characteristics and short-term degradation trends in UK peatland catchments" (with Dr Emma Shuttleworth and Prof James Rothwell). Now at University of Exeter

Oluseun Adeluyi (2016 - 2020) "The potential of remote sensing technologies for monitoring the productivity of dry season irrigated rice" (with Dr Angela Harris and Dr Timothy Foster). Now at Omega Crop

Other research

Conference organisation

2023 “Rethinking Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) in the era of emergent crises: Meanings, impacts and alternatives” Development Studies Association 2023, Crisis in the Anthropocene: rethinking connection and agency for development, Reading, UK (co-convenor)

2021 "Degradation and management of peat soils and peatlands" Eurosoil 2021, Geneva

2019 - 2022 "Peatlands Under Pressure" European Geosciences Union, Vienna, Austria (co-convener)

2012 - 2018 “Peatlands and the carbon cycle” European Geosciences Union. Vienna, Austria (convener)


2023 - 24 Teaching 

UG Year 1

GEOG10422 Dynamic Earth (Course Convenor)

UG Year 3

GEOG32012 Pyrogeography (Course Convenor)


GEOG70641 EMMR Field Course, Northumberland (Course Convenor)

GEOG72901 Climate Change: Past, Present and Future (Lecturer)

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, University of Durham

Oct 2006Sept 2009

Bachelor of Science, Geology, University of Durham

Oct 2003Jun 2006

External positions

Ida Pfeiffer Professor, University of Vienna

1 Jun 201830 Nov 2018

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Sustainable Futures
  • Digital Futures
  • Manchester Environmental Research Institute


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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