Managing ash dieback disease using soil amendments including biochar

Eligibility: UK/EU graduates with the required entry requirements

Reason for eligibility restriction: Funder requirement

PhD funding award: Bursary plus tuition fees (UK/ EU)

Duration: Full-Time – between three and three and a half years fixed term

Application deadline: 31 July 2019

Interview dates: Will be confirmed to shortlisted candidates

Start date: September 2019

Enquiries may be addressed to Liz Woodard.

The project

The Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience at Coventry University has an exciting opportunity for a full time 3.5 year studentship opportunity for the right candidate to work on a project looking to increase understanding of ash dieback and explore possible ways of controlling it using agroecological principles.


Ash dieback is an emerging disease that causes leaf loss and crown dieback in affected plants, often leading to tree death. It is caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus (previously referred to as Chalara fraxinea). There is still much to learn and many aspects of the disease are poorly understood, including the mechanisms that trees may have for tolerance and resistance to the disease. Ash is an important part of our native flora which supports many invertebrates as well as having particular cultural significance, so mitigating the effects of this disease is of considerable importance.

Some researchers have suggested that a plant’s own defence mechanisms can be enhanced by prior treatment with a biological or chemical agent. Soil amendments may also improve soil fertility and structure and this may support improved plant health. Biochar, produced by pyrolysis of a range of organic material is one agent that has been widely advocated to improve soil fertility in a range of studies. A diverse, functioning soil ecosystem is vital to soil health but there has been little research so far into the impact of soil health either on ash dieback disease.

Research programme

  • A full literature survey will be conducted to describe the current ‘state of the art’ to ensure that the research conducted is novel and robust
  • Replicated field trials will be set up using ash saplings, including biochar treatments plus other soil amendments
  • Sites with established ash trees of various ages, with or without dieback infection, will be sampled to examine the soil microbial ecology and relate tree health with soil fertility
  • Pot trials and laboratory studies will be conducted using young trees
  • The findings will be published in scientific journals and described at appropriate conferences


Full Fees (UK /EU equivalence only) plus Bursary.


The successful candidate will receive comprehensive research training including technical, personal and professional skills.

All researchers at Coventry University (from PhD to Professor) are part of the Doctoral College and Centre for Research Capability and Development, which provides support with high-quality training and career development activities.

Entry criteria for applicants to PHD

  • A minimum of a 2:1 first degree in a relevant discipline/ subject area with a minimum 60% mark in the project element or equivalent with a minimum 60% overall module average.
    • Plus the potential to engage in innovative research and to complete the PhD within a 3.5 years
  • A minimum of English language proficiency (IELTS overall minimum score of 7.0 with a minimum of 6.5 in each component

The successful candidate will be expected to have:

  • A proven ability to undertake independent study
  • Experience in at least one relevant topic area (plant pathology, plant physiology or forestry)
  • An understanding of standard statistical techniques
  • Strong communication skills to interact productively with project partners and stakeholders

How to apply

To find out more about the project please contact: Dr Francis Rayns.

All applications require full supporting documentation and a covering letter showing how the applicant’s expertise and interests are relevant to the project.

Apply to Coventry University