Dr Pia Benaud
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Amory Building, University of Exeter, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4RJ , UK
My research contributes to our understanding of how nature-based solutions, through restoring natural habitat structure and function, can mitigate land degradation issues and improve the provision of ecosystem services. I take an interdisciplinary approach to monitoring structural and functional change, combining in-situ field instrumentation and laboratory analysis with proximal and remote sensing technologies, and geospatial analysis, delivering both a spatial and temporal understanding of environmental change.
I am currently conducting research in support of the South West Peatland Partnership's Nature for Climate Project. We will be combining high temporal resolution field measurements of hydrology and carbon fluxes with remote and proximally sensing data, to build an understanding of trajectories of change following peatland restoration. For more information on this and my previous research, please see my 'Research' tab.
Broad research specialisms:
soil erosion; remote sensing; environmental change detection; understanding the environmental effects of landscape restoration.
PhD Physical Geography (University of Exeter)
BSc (Hons) Environmental Science (Griffith University, Australia)
BSc Environmental Science with year abroad (Griffith University, University of East Anglia)
Current research projects
Nature for Climate Change (2021 - Present)
The government’s Nature for Climate Peatland Grant Scheme recognises the important contribution peatland restoration makes towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050 while providing wider benefits such as improved ecosystems and biodiversity, better water quality and natural flood management. Through mapping peat extent across Bodmin Moor, and monitoring trajectories of ecohydrological change following peatland restoration on Dartmoor, the outcomes will quantify the benefits of restoration efforts and guide restoration practices in the future.
Previous research projects
Upstream Thinking (2020-2025)
Upstream Thinking is a South West Water’s environmental program, where nature-based and landscape-scale environmental management strategies are applied to increase environmental resilience and improve water quality and supply. Our role is to provide independent scientific evidence relating to SWW’s delivery of the Environment Agency’s Measure Specification Forms in upland and lowland drinking water catchments.
Mires Project (2015-2020)
The peatlands of Exmoor and Dartmoor are heavily degraded as a result of erosion and drainage for agricultural improvement. This research provides an evidence base for the effectiveness of moorland restoration, for the Exmoor and Dartmoor Mires restoration projects. Through monitoring vegetation, carbon fluxes and patterns of erosion I contributed to the scientific understanding of habitat function and restoration responses. The outcomes of some of this research has been compiled into the "Mires on the Moors: Science and Evidence Report 2020".
Sphagnum Reintroduction Project
Despite hydrological success, the physical restoration works carried out on Exmoor have resulted in limited vegetation change, to-date. This project is investigating the viability of sphagnum reintroduction as program to the existing restoration work. I supported the design, establishment and monitoring of the study prior to the commencement of a PhD researcher, and provide ongoing informal PhD supervision
Piloting a cost-effective framework for monitoring soil erosion in England and Wales
Attempts to quantify soil erosion nationally have illustrated that soil erosion can occur in the UK, however, understanding whether or not the UK has a soil erosion problem still remains a question to be answered. This Defra-funded project established a framework to monitor soil erosion at a national scale, and compared the cost-effectiveness of different monitoring approaches. My contributions included the review and construction of interactive geodatabase and web-map of existing UK-based soil erosion work. I also critically explored the application of novel proximal sensing technologies and tracers for the quantification of soil loss.
Impacts of Moorland Restoration on Nutscale Reservoir
Nutscale Reservoir has suffered negative changes in water quality, increasing the cost to both the supplier (Wessex Water) and consumer. This project sought to understand if there was a link between moorland restoration and the water quality issues.
Australian Alternative Covers Assessment Program (AACAP)
Landfill phytocovers are thought to be a sustainable alternative to conventional barrier-based covers, utilising soil water storage, surface evaporation and plant transpiration to reduce water ingress to decommissioned landfill areas. I studied vegetation performance and soil properties within full-scale test phytocovers, describing responses in four different bioclimatic conditions.