Biosciences: Fully Funded EPSRC & SWTRA PhD Scholarship: Toads in the hole: Designing new gully pots to reduce environmental impacts of road infrastructure on amphibians

Closing date: 31 January 2021

Key Information

This scholarship is funded by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and South Wales Trunk Road Agent (SWTRA).

Start date: October 2021

Supervisors: 

Amphibians are globally declining and are estimated to be the most severely threated group of vertebrates. One of the main drivers of these population declines is human alteration to environments, which can kill amphibians indirectly (by reducing habitat suitability) or directly. In the UK, roadside gully pots (or ‘gullies’) used to provide drainage are one direct contributor to amphibian deaths, to the extent that they have been implicated as a factor in population declines and localised extirpations.

Small animals fall through the grating of the gullies and are trapped within, resulting in death from drowning or starvation unless rescued. The animals entrapped are predominantly toads, Bufo bufo (80-90% of entrapped amphibians) but also smaller numbers of other amphibians and small mammals. Given the large spatial scale of the UK road network, the problem of gully pot entrapment has major implications for wild animal welfare and conservation.

Previous attempts to address this problem have primarily been based around retro-fitted products such as ‘amphibian ladders’ or geotextiles, both of which are inserted into existing gullies to provide a means for animals to escape. However, annual maintenance of gullies can quickly degrade these products, resulting in short effective lifespans. Alternative solutions have been proposed such as moving gullies further from kerbs, which reduces entrapment of amphibians but substantially reduces the drainage efficiency of the gully, resulting in more water on roads and added pressure to downstream drainage infrastructure.

A better solution would be to redesign the gullies themselves in a way which allowed trapped animals to escape but does not interfere with the required drainage function of the pots. With frequency and intensity of rainfall expected to increase with climate change, gully efficiency is critical to controlling higher expected rainfall in coming decades. However, to date there remains no gully design on the market which simultaneously meets the requirements for efficient drainage, quick cleaning using routine maintenance equipment, and enabling escape of trapped amphibians.

This project proposes to capitalise on the combined expertise in amphibian behaviour (Dr Kevin Arbuckle) and engineering of drainage systems (Dr Patricia Xavier) to work with the successful candidate to develop a new gully design to address this need. Using our industry partner links at South Wales Trunk Road Agent (SWTRA) we will be able to both design new prototypes in the lab (optimising hydraulic efficiency and amphibian escape) and field test them at sites identified and managed by SWTRA.

The new gullies will be field trialled only after the joint aims of enabling amphibian escape and maintaining structural integrity and functional efficiency are met. Because climate change predictions in Wales are expected to increase surface water flows, our designs will be important at combatting this middle- to long-term problem without compromising animal welfare or conservation. Moreover, this project aims to design both complete gullies that can be rolled out across South Wales and eventually the UK, and gully inserts which can present a cheaper and immediate-term option while the basic structure of existing gully pots remains intact (before replacement is desired). This will help ensure both immediate and long-term real-world impacts of the project.

Eligibility

Candidates must have a First, Upper Second Class Honours or a Master’s degree with Merit, in a relevant discipline.

For candidates whose first language is not English, we require IELTS 6.5 (with 6.0 in each component) or equivalent. Please visit our website for a list of acceptable English language tests. We prefer candidates to have already met the English Language requirements at the point of application, although this is not a requirement.

In addition to UK students, international and EU students are eligible to apply for these studentships but should note that they may have to pay the difference between the home UKRI fee and the institutional international student fee.

Funding

This three-year fully funded scholarship covers UK tuition fees and an annual stipend set at the minimum UKRI level (currently £15,285 per annum for 2020/21 for full-time students, updated each year). 

RTSG support of £1,000 per annum is also provided.

How to Apply

To apply, please complete and submit the following documents to science-scholarships@swansea.ac.uk:

  • College of Science PGR Scholarship Application
  • Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Monitoring Form_Ffurflen Monitro
  • Academic References – all scholarship applications require two supporting references to be submitted. Please ensure that your chosen referees are aware of the funding deadline, as their references form a vital part of the evaluation process. Please either include these with your scholarship application or ask your referees to send them directly to science-scholarships@swansea.ac.uk
  • Academic Transcripts and Degree Certificates – academic transcripts and degree certificates must be submitted along with the scholarship application by the funding deadline. We will be using these to verify your academic qualifications.
  • A recent CV

Candidates should use the ‘Supplementary Personal Statement’ section of the application form to explain why the award they are applying for particularly matches their skills and experience and how they would choose to develop the project.

Please email the documents with ‘EPSRC 35 - BIOL - SCHOLARSHIP 2021-2022’ in the email subject header.

Informal enquiries before the deadline for formal applications are welcome, please email Dr Kevin Arbuckle (kevin.arbuckle@swansea.ac.uk).