Dr Ruth Swetnam

Job Title and Responsibilities

Associate Professor in Geography

About Me

I am 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. As a taster, these projects have included: the landscape impacts of climate change; the effects of fragmentation of woodlands on bird species; modelling the impact of game shooting on biodiversity; 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.  I joined Staffordshire University in January 2012.


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

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 Lucy Cavendish College Cambridge
  • Member of the Association of Women in Science and Engineering
  • Voluntary mentor of women scientists for Mentorset



  • Advanced GIS (ArcInfo, Arcview, ArcGIS)

  • Spatial modelling, data management, Air Photo Interpretation

  • Analysis and management of large spatial datasets


  • High level writing skills (for scientific journal articles, professional reports)

  • Public speaking with good oral presentation skills (international conferences, seminars, meetings)

  • Research and development skills (bibliographic, archival, internet-based)

  • Editing & review – acted as a referee for a number of international journals, The Leverhulme Trust, EU Framework VI programme

  • Chairing, organising, minute taking of meetings

  • Running workshops for stakeholders

  • Staff management – junior technical staff, fieldworkers and research students

  • Project management – GIS projects, field-based ecology projects

Working with the Media

Previous research in the field of land use change in Britain post 1930 was featured on the BBC Programme ‘Britain from the Air’ in 2008. (See http://www.bbc.co.uk/britainfromabove/stories/buildingbritain/dudleystamp.shtml (2.30 min in) and http://www.bbc.co.uk/britainfromabove/stories/buildingbritain/agriculturalrevolution.shtml (2.25 min in) for links to video clips.

Enterprise and Commercial Activities

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. 

Completed Research Projects

Examples of my previous research projects include:

  1. Modelling weed changes on farmland - SETASIDE project funded by MAFF 1997 - 2000
    Predicting weed changes on set-aside arable land in a 1x1m quadrat. Sample vegetation surveys, soil and landcover data were modelled to predict the probability of occurrence for 260 weed species in the UK. Using the maps, GIS sampling was used to produce a typical weed community for our target quadrats. A separate competition model was linked within the GIS to predict changes in the weed flora under different management regimes (See Swetnam et al. 1998; Firbank et al. 1998)

  2. Modelling farmland birds in the UK – work funded by the Royal Society, NERC, English Nature and BBSRC over a number of different research grants.
    Models of farmland birds were constructed using GIS derived landscape variables. Exploiting both the field (polygon) and hedge (arc/node) data models, skylark (Alauda arvensis) and yellowhammer (Emberizia citronella) occurrence across farmed landscapes were predicted. Scenarios of landscape change (cropping / boundary management) were implemented within the GIS and the bird models re-applied to show the impacts of change on these two species. (See Swetnam et al. 1998; 2005; Whittingham , Swetnam et al. 2005; 2007

Other funded research projects include:

2006 – 2007: FARMCAT - Farmer Attitudes to Conservation and Training. Funded by ESRC and NERC through the RELU Programme

2006- 2007: ALTERNET – European funded project which explored the links between changing landscape structure and land use

2002 – 2007: Environmental Information System for Planners – funded by the NERC URGENT programme.  Development of a web-based system to support better environmental decision making in UK planning

2001 – 2003: TRANSIT – a BBSRC funded research project with Dr Mark Whittingham of Oxford & Newcastle University to explore the spatial dynamics of farmland birds throughout the UK

1999 – 2002: STRANGE BRUE – a NERC catchment project focusing on the ecohydrology of the Somerset Levels and Moors ESA, UK

1996 – 1999: Impact of game management on the landscape – funded by the British Association of Shooting and Conservation

1993 – 1996: Set-aside GIS funded by MAFF

1994 – 1996: Wetlands GIS funded by MAFF – a GIS used to explore the restoration of lowland wet grassland systems in the Oxfordshire Upper Thames Tributaries

Selected Publications

Ecosystem Services

Yi, Zhuang-Fang; Wong, Grace; Cannon, Charles H.; Xu, Jianchu; Beckshäfer, Philip and Swetnam, Ruth D. (2014) Can carbon-trading schemes help to protect China’s most diverse forest ecosystems? A case study from Xishuangbanna, Yunnan. Land Use Policy, 38, 646-656.

Yi, Z & Swetnam et al., (2014) Developing indicators of economic value and biodiversity loss for rubber plantations in Xishuangbanna, southwest China: A case study from Menglun township. Ecological Indicators, 36: 788-797.

Schaafsma, M., & Swetnam et al., (2012) Towards transferable functions for extraction of Non-timber  Forest Products: A case study on charcoal production in Tanzania. Ecological Economics, 80: 48-62. 

Swetnam et al.(2011) Mapping socio-economic scenarios of land cover change:  a GIS method to enable ecosystem service modelling. Journal of Environmental Management, 92: 563-574

Fisher & Swetnam et al. (2011) Implementation and opportunity costs of reducing deforestation and forest degradation in Tanzania. Nature Climate Change, 1: 161-164. DOI:10.1038/NCLIMATE1119.

Fisher & Swetnam et al. (2011) Measuring, modelling and mapping ecosystem services in the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania.  Progress in Physical Geography, 35: 595-611.

Land Use Change

Swetnam (2007) The dynamics of land use change in England and Wales, 1930 -2000: a spatial and temporal analysis. PhD thesis, Exeter University, UK.

Swetnam (2007) Stability mapping: a tool to understand rural land use change dynamics with examples from England and Wales, 1930- 1998. Landscape and Urban Planning, 81: 91-103.

Landscape Ecology

Pfeifer, M., Swetnam et al., (2012) Protected areas: mixed success in protecting East Africa’s evergreen forests. PLOS One, 7(6) ): e39337doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039337

Whittingham, Swetnam, et al. (2007) Should conservation strategies consider spatial generality? Farmland birds show regional not national patterns of habitat association. Ecology Letters, 10: 25-35.

Swetnam, et al.  (2005) Designing lowland landscapes for farmland birds: scenario testing with GIS. Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, 29: 275-296.

Whittingham, Swetnam et al.(2005) Habitat selection by yellowhammers Emberiza citronella on lowland farmland at two spatial scales: implications for conservation management. Journal of Applied Ecology, 42: 270-280.

Swetnam, et al.  (1998) Applying ecological models to altered landscapes: scenario-testing with GIS. Landscape and Urban Planning, 41: 3-18.


Swetnam, et al. (2004) Agri-environmental schemes: their role in reversing floral decline in the Brue floodplain, Somerset, UK. Journal of Environmental Management, 71: 79-93.

Swetnam, et al. (1998) A Geographic Information System for predicting weed changes on set-aside arable land. Weed Technology , 12: 165-176.

Firbank, Swetnam, et al. (1998) Mapping the distribution of weeds in Great Britain in relation to national survey distribution and to soil type. Weed Research, 38: 1-10

General GIS Issues and Writing

Swetnam & Reyers (2011) Mapping Africa’s natural capital: the contribution of GIS now and in the future. Landscape & Urban Planning, 100: 411-414.

Swetnam & Swetnam (2010) Writing your dissertation. 3rd Edition, How To Books, Oxfordshire UK.


My full publication list can be viewed here (DOC, file size: 84KB)

Current Teaching

  • L4 Geography Tutorials
  • L4 Dynamic Earth: Biogeography & Soils
  • L5: Changing Earth: Human responses to physical environmental change
  • L5: Introduction to GIS Skills
  • L5 Geography Fieldwork Tutor
  • L6 Dissertation project supervisor
  • L6 Individual research project placement tutor
  • L7 GIS for Ecology


Dr Ruth Swetnam
t: +44 (0)1782 295934
e: r.d.swetnam@staffs.ac.uk
twitter: @drruthswetnam