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Conservation Research Institute



I am taking a mixed methods approach to understand the social impacts of dam construction after the World Commission on Dams in the Global South, with a special focus on the Himalayas. Themes of my work include understanding if different funding sources and political regimes impact on the social outcomes of dams, and understanding the role of tools such as social impact assessment, environmental impact assessment and cost-benefit analysis.

Prior to my PhD, I worked as a conservation professional at the international, national and community levels, with a focus on community-conservation and forests. I have a significant interest in the physical and conceptual frontier between conservation and human-induced land-use change, and how we define "natural" landscapes, which has fed into my professional work.

Highlights of my career have been: delivering technical training on forest surveys, spatial analysis and forest policy in over fifteen countries; working with forest communities to develop - a resource which brings together experiences of community forest monitoring around the world; and attending the UNFCCC and CBD Conferences of the Parties.

More recently I travelled through South and Central Asia, and my first-hand experience of environmental disasters caused by water-management infrastructure has led me to my PhD research. I'm grateful to Cambridge's ESRC DTP programme, from whom I have an interdisciplinary studentship.


After a hiatus after the landmark 2000 World Commission on Dams, dam building is increasingly back on the agenda in the Global South. New finance from investors and South-South collaborations from emerging powers such as India is now complementing traditional donors such as the World Bank. In the face of climate change, interest in renewable energy and by extension hydropower is increasing for countries seeking to reduce their fossil fuel consumption after the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

A glance at a map of planned and future dams, demonstrates that dam building is concentrated in certain areas. One such region is the ecologically fragile, seismically active and culturally vibrant Himalayas, which contains much of the potential future hydropower development opportunities for the region.

Stimulated by this context, I will be asking questions such as:

  • What is the relationship between the new wave of dam building and poverty and inequality after the World Commission on Dams?
  • How do planning tools, such as Environmental Impact Assessment, Social Impact Assessment and Cost-Benefit Analysis play a role in mitigating negative social impacts such as poverty?
  • What is the role of traditional versus new funders in driving social outcomes from dams in the Global South, and the Himalayas in particular?
  • Why does the discussion around dams impacts in the Himalayas remain so contested by different groups?

I will take a mixed methods approach grounded in the literature on political ecology to answer these questions in selected cases in the Himalayas. I will also undertake a large-scale quantitative analysis of trends in poverty and inequality and dam construction, using a novel combination of night-light luminosity data and dam construction data in the Global South.


Key publications: 
  • 2015 Bellfield et al. Case study report: Community-based monitoring systems for REDD+ in Guyana. Forests
  • 2012 Contribution to: REDD+: where do we stand? Chapter in State of the Congo Basin Forest 2012
  • 2012 Swan et al. REDD+ Biodiversity Safeguards: Options for Developing National Approaches.
  • 2012 Mitchard et al. A novel application of satellite radar data: monitoring carbon sequestration and degradation in a community forestry project in Mozambique. Plant Ecology and Diversity
  • 2010 Grace et al. A pilot project to store carbon as biomass in African woodlands. Carbon Management.