Dr Ruth Swetnam


School of Justice, Security and Sustainability

I am a GIS specialist interested in the application of spatial modelling to environmental processes at a range of spatial and temporal scales (local, national and regional). My research interests lie in the fields of landscape ecology, historical geography, land use change and environmental information and I am a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a Chartered Geographer in GIS.

After short spells at the National Remote Sensing Centre and the British Antarctic Survey. I spent 14 years at the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology where I built GIS databases to investigate ecological processes relevant to both fauna and flora. These projects have included: the landscape impacts of climate change; the effects of fragmentation of woodlands on birds; modelling the impact of set-aside on arable weeds and the spatial targeting of wet grassland restoration.

Between 2007 and 2011 I was a member of the Conservation Science group in the Zoology department of Cambridge where I worked on the Leverhulme funded programme ‘Valuing the Arc’ modelling ecosystem services in the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania. My recent focus has shifted towards analysis of cultural ecosystem services and the assessment of visual landscape quality. I joined Staffordshire University in January 2012.

Professional memberships and activities

  • Elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 2005
  • Awarded Chartered Geographer (CGeog, GIS) status by the RGS in 2009
  • Appointed to the editorial board of ‘Landscape and Urban Planning’ in 2007
  • Member of the Association of Women in Science and Engineering
  • Member of the University Professoriate Conferment Committee
  • Life Sciences – Postgraduate Tutor & University Graduate School Committee Member
  • Faculty Research & Enterprise Committee

Academic qualifications

PhD (2007) Geography, University of Exeter. “Land use change in England and Wales, 1930-1998: a spatial and temporal analysis.” Exeter University, UK, pp 288

MSc (1993) Geographic Information Systems, University of Edinburgh (distinction)

BSc (1991) Geography, University of Sheffield


Wide ranging technical skills (GIS, data visualisation, modelling, fieldwork) sit alongside 30 years of experience in project management, research delivery, staff management and science communication.

As a senior member of staff at the University I have professional skills commensurate with my role: chairing meetings, managing junior staff, delivering training and mentoring, undertaking staff reviews, course development, committee work, staff appointments and examinations. I have undertaken collaborative projects with international teams and have wide experience of presenting technical information to different audiences including MPs, senior civil servants, land managers and the public.

I have extensive international research links in Europe, North America and Africa and act as an international reviewer for a range of high impact scientific publications. I have been an Editorial Board Member of the journal Landscape and Urban Planning since 2007. I have also acted as external referee for The Leverhulme Trust, the UK Research Councils and was an evaluator of the European Commission review of Framework VI programme.

In 2016, I completed a programme evaluation for the German Ministry of Science on their Sustainable Land Use Programme and in 2017, was a member of the Consultation Committee for the German research network ‘Best Land’. I have media training and experience, having appeared on BBC radio and in 2008 I was filmed as part of the BBC2 landmark series “Britain from Above” where I discussed historical land use mapping. I enjoy mentoring, particularly young women who are under-represented in STEMM subjects, both here in the UK and globally through my tutoring links with the Cambridge Student Conference on Conservation Science.

Research interests

My key areas of funded research activity are: (1) Land Use Change; (2) Landscape Quality (3) Mapping and Ecosystem Services Valuation. The emphasis is typically large scale, complex projects that require groups of experts working alongside stakeholders to achieve results. Often these teams are multi-disciplinary and international.

I recently led the landscape component of a large project funded by the Welsh Government called the Glastir Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (GMEP). This project was undertaken with CEH, the Universities of Bangor and Aberdeen, the BTO and Ecorys Ltd. My role was to quantify the quality of the landscapes of Wales and to evaluate their contribution to the delivery of cultural ecosystem services to the people of Wales. This ongoing work now involves landscape evaluation work in Iceland, Spain and N. Macedonia.

Previous projects include: the valuation of ecosystem services in Tanzania; modelling the impact of farm management on plants and farmland bird populations; restoration of rare wet grasslands and investigating the impact of game management on the landscape. I was also the data manager for the NERC Urban Regeneration & Environment Programme (1996-2002). These projects were highly collaborative and completed for Government Departments (notably Defra, MAFF, Natural England) with a focus on policy-relevant science.

More recently, my focus has shifted towards sustainability, with my students researching green infrastructure and urban ecology. I am also involved in the University’s civic engagement within our city and have just started a mapping project for the University campus to help us achieve our net-zero Carbon aspirations.

Please see the following links for current research activity ResearchGate Profile https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ruth-Swetnam Orcid Profile: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5199-9622 Google Scholar Profile: https://scholar.google.co.uk/citations?user=t6CUhJkAAAAJ

Enterprise and commercial interests

My key areas of funded research activity are:

  • GIS and Land Use Change (processes of change and their impact on biodiversity)

  • GIS and Landscape Ecology (impact of pattern on process, species/habitat interactions)

  • GIS and Ecosystem Services Valuation (mapping, modelling and economic valuation)

I am currently leading the landscape analysis component of a large, interdisciplinary research project funded by the Welsh Government called the Glastir Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (MEP). This project is being undertaken in conjunction with CEH, the Universities of Bangor and Aberdeen, the BTO, Ecorys Ltd amongst others. Our role at Staffordshire is to quantify the quality of the landscapes of Wales and to evaluate their contribution to the delivery of cultural ecosystem services for the people of Wales. This is a 4 year programme and currently employs Dr Sam Harrison as a post-doctoral researcher.

Previous research has focused on east Africa and the valuation of ecosystem services (carbon storage, clean water, timber, non-timber forest products) provided by the montane forests of Tanzania. This work was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and was a large collaborative project with Cambridge, Leeds, Cranfield, UEA and York Universities in the UK, Sokoine and Dar es Salaam Universities in Tanzania and the World Wildlife Fund in Tanzania and the US.


L4: Global Challenges & Opportunities

L5: Conservation & Environment

L5: Fieldwork Tutor

L5: Skills Training: Questionnaire Design, Introduction to GIS

L6: Environmental Issues & the Media

L6: Dissertation project supervisor

L6: Advanced Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

L7: Environmental Advocacy & Action

L7: Big Data for Smart Cities

L7: Creative Research Skills

L8: PhD supervisor


1. Ahrends, A., Bulling, M., Platts, P., Swetnam, R. D., Ryan, C., Doggart, N., et al. (2021) Detecting and predicting forest degradation: A comparison of ground surveys and remote sensing in Tanzanian forests. Plants, People, Planet, 3: 268-281.

2. Jovanovska, D., Swetnam, R. D., Tweed, F. S., Melovski, L. (2020) Assessing the landscape visual quality of Shar Planina, North Macedonia. Landscape Ecology, in press.

3. Swetnam, R. D. & Korenko, J. (2019) Can computer game landscapes target new audiences for landscape quality assessment? Applied Geography, 113, doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeog.2019.102102

4. Atkins, E., Swetnam R. D., Mitchell, P., Dover, J. W. (2018) Surveying Small Mammals in Urban Hedges. Mammal Communications 4: 7-15.

5. Swetnam, R. D., & Tweed, F. S. (2018) A tale of two landscapes: which landscape metrics are truly transferable? Land Use Policy, 76: 565-576.

6. Swetnam, R. D., Harrison, S. K., & Smith, G. R., (2017) Quantifying visual landscape quality in rural Wales: A GIS-enabled method for extensive monitoring of a valued cultural ecosystem service. Ecosystem Services, 26: 451-464.

7. Willcock, S., Phillips, O., Platts, P, Swetnam R. D., et al., (2016) Land cover change and carbon emissions over 100 years in an African biodiversity hotspot. Global Change Biology, doi:10.111/gcb.13218.

Full publications listing includes 47 refereed scientific papers, 70+ contract reports (Defra, MAFF, Welsh Government, Natural England), 1 book, 4 book chapters. Please contact Ruth direct for access.

Blogs written for a wider audience https://blogs.staffs.ac.uk/geography/2016/06/26/black-ice-dirty-ice/ https://blogs.staffs.ac.uk/geography/2016/06/13/iceland-glaciers-volcanoes-and-tourists/

UK University

StudentCrowd University Awards 2022

for Job Prospects

StudentCrowd University Awards 2022

for Student Satisfaction

Complete University Guide 2022

for Social Inclusion

The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023

for Course Content

StudentCrowd University Awards 2022

of Research Impact is ‘Outstanding’ or ‘Very Considerable’

Research Excellence Framework 2021