School of Earth and Environment

George Holmes Dr George Holmes

Associate Professor: Conservation and Society

Telephone number: +44(0) 113 34 31163
Email address:
Room: 8.105a
PA details: Hayley Lawrence +44(0) 113 34 31139

Affiliation: Sustainability Research Institute

Private conservation and environmental governance


I am interested in issues of biodiversity conservation, as seen from a social, cultural and political perspective. My research has two interlinking strands. Firstly, I am interested in how protected areas (national parks, reserves) interact with communities living nearby, how conservation regulations may affect local people's lives and livelihoods, how effectively protected areas can change the behaviour of local people, and how local people can in turn shape protected area policies to their own liking. Secondly, I am interested in how protected areas come about and looking at the combination of political, cultural and social factors which influence whether a country or place has lots of protected areas and conservation initiatives, or very few. For my PhD, I looked at protected areas in the Dominican Republic, which has the fourth highest proportion of its land in national parks and scientific reserves of any country in the world, but which also has lots of poor rural peasants whose lives are affected by these parks. My thesis (available here) looked at why this high percentage had come about, and how these protected areas shaped the lives of local people, how local people shaped protected areas, and what all this means for successfully conserving biodiversity whilst improving the lives of the rural poor. You can read about this in my publications.

I subsequently worked on a two year Leverhulme funded fellowship which looks at private protected areas in Patagonia. At the bottom end of South America there are a significant number of privately owned nature reserves, in contrast to the majority of protected areas globally, which are run by governments. Some of these are owned by rich philanthropists, others by families, businesses and NGOs. My project looks at why this strange phenomenon has happed here, and what it means for biodiversity and human beings.

I have also found myself looking at re-wilding initiatives and projects to turn landscapes dominated by human activities into landscapes dominated by natural processes and both in Patagonia and in Europe. I find both the ecology and the cultural and political side of re-wilding fascinating. My work focuses particularly on the conflicts and coexistence between different humans who advocate for a wilder or more domesticated landscape, and on the conflicts and coexistence between humans and biodiversity (particularly predators) in wilder landscapes.

I have recently been working on undertanding what conservation means to conservationists, particularly around recent debates on the merits or otherwise of the so-called New Conservation. I am keen to move debates about what conservation is, and what it should be, beyond exchanges of opinion pieces written in scholarly journals by established figures, and into something more open, democratic, and reflective of the breadth of conservation.

One of the things that I like most about my research is that it is very interdisciplinary and I find myself mixing ideas from human and physical geography, anthropology, ecology, history, and other areas, which all combine to produce some really interesting results. I feel that an interdisciplinary perspective is essential for any academic, as insularity leads to stagnation of ideas, but perhaps more importantly because successful conservation depends on looking at biodiversity not just using ecology and biological science, but also from a social, cultural and political perspective. This is reflected in my collaborations with everyone from geneticists to literature scholars.

I have found teaching to be one of the more enjoyable parts of my job. I teach at all levels, from first year undergraduate to leading the core MSc module. Good lecturing and teaching is a craft, and an important one to master. Lectures should not be about talking for an hour or two on a subject, but about introducing complex ideas in an approachable way, pushing students to develop their own understanding, challenging their ideas and making them think. My classes tend to be pretty interactive as a result. I am also Director of Student Education for the School of Earth and Environment/

I am a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a member of the Association of American Geographers and the Society for Conservation Biology. I also participate in the Poverty and Conservation Learning Group, a forum of scholars and practitioners looking at linkages between poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation, which is coordinated by the International Institute for Environment and Development.

Current PhD students

  • Thomas Smith (co-supervised with Jouni Paavola) - funded by Leeds Anniversary Research Scholarship
    • Private actors and market approaches to biodiversity management in Latin America

  • Caroline Ward (co-supervised with Lindsay Stringer) - funded by the Natural Environment Research Council
    • Protected area governance and livelihood security in Madagascar

  • Jonathan Carruthers-Jones - Funded by Marie Slowdoska Curie ITN in Environmental Humanities
    • Environmental humanities: Wilderness and conservation

  • Linas Svolkinas (co-supervised with Simon Goodman, Faculty of Biological Sciences) - funded by the Natural Environment Research Council
    • Biological and socio-political aspects of the conservation of Caspian Seal

  • Rachel Palfrey (co-supervised with Johan Oldekop, University of Sheffield - funded by the Economic and Social Research Council
    • Environmental and Social impacts of private protected areas in Latin America

Graduated PhD students

  • Will Wright (co-supervised at Department of Geography, University of Sheffield) 2011-2015 - funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council
    • Living with the tsunami: Contested knowledges, spatial politics and everyday practices in South East Sri Lanka


  • PhD Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester
  • MRes Human Geography, University of Edinburgh
  • BSc Geography, University of Edinburgh


  • Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society
  • Member of the Association of American Geographers
  • Member of the Society for Conservation Biology
  • Member of the World Commission on Protected Areas

Research Interests

  • Conservation
  • protected areas
  • poverty
  • biodiversity
  • re-wilding
  • philanthropy
  • political ecology

Academic CV (pdf file)