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Ecological and heritage importance of parkland estates

Dr Julie Peacock (SoG), Dr Karen Bacon (SoG), Prof Pippa Chapman (SoG)

Project partner(s): Harewood House Estate

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Large stately homes and their accompanying estates provide a key heritage resource with a unique flora, fauna and soil function. Such estates contain both native and wild flora in addition to cultivated horticultural species. The Aichi Biodiversity Target 13 (2011), recognises the value of cultivated species, including those which have socio-economic or cultural value or species that are now rare in their native locations, making the estates living plant libraries. These plants have been collected from around the globe and many local hybrids have been developed. The natural historical value of gardens at stately homes is as important as their art or the homes themselves, and they are interconnected with our social and cultural history but is far less comprehensively understood.

The Harewood House estate in Yorkshire has been actively managed for over 200 years and provides an ideal location to assess the management practices on plant and soil function and development and to assess the risk of ongoing threats, such as changes to climate regimes and disease prevalence. In many estates such as Harewood the true value of their unique flora is not known, with Peacock, Ting and Bacon (2018) having just produced a first estimate of the value of the trees. Record keeping on the estate and long-term management mean that it is possible to undertake a detailed investigation of how soils and plants have changed over time and to distinguish between the effects of management and environmental change. By developing a database of plants, their traits and associated ecosystem characteristics, including soil types, at Harewood an understanding of the species and hybrids present will become clear. This will also be expanded to other sites around the UK to further develop and understanding of how the ecosystems present in stately home estates offer both ecological and heritage value. 

The estates of stately homes potentially offer a unique resource for the protection of endangered species (both native and non-native) and may also prove valuable refugia for engendered species as well as habitats for native fauna. Many estates are also home to a wide range of species that have been in situ for decades or centuries and therefore provide an interesting suite of species for investigating response to management practices (including soil management) and climate change over these timescales.

An additional value to sites such as Harewood House is the social value. To engage the public with the ecological values of Harewood House estate, a citizen science-based database of photographs providing ecological information will be created. This, combined with metrological data and estate records, will help to investigate longer-term responses of plants to changing management practices or climate regimes and provide a detailed historical repository/ resource of local photographs for the wider community.


In this project, you will work with scientists at Leeds and specialists at Harewood House to determine best practices for sustainable management of the ecological resources of stately homes and the impacts of climate change on plants and soils in these estates. In particular, according to your particular research interests, the studentship could involve:

• Assess the range of plants and soil types in the estate

• Assess the biogeochemical characteristics of the estate soils

• Assess the physical and physiological status of selected plant species 

• Determine resilience of native and non-native plants within the estate and compare this to natural populations of selected species

• Determine the impact of management practices on soils within the estate and make recommendations for future strategies in relation to sustainability of both plants and soils

• Create an online resource to document plants and soils and their characteristics and make this available to the general public and other interested parties. Manage a citizen science resource linked to the estate.

• Utilise the findings of the investigation to inform sustainable practices for estates on a national and international scale.

Click here for a full project description.

Related undergraduate subjects:

  • Biodiversity
  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Biology
  • Botany
  • Ecology
  • Environmental biology
  • Geography
  • Natural sciences
  • Physical geography
  • Plant science
  • Soil science