skip to content

Conservation Research Institute



Trained as an economist, Bhaskar’s  research is concerned, in particular, with the often-hidden costs of environmental and developmental processes, and the need for scholarship to draw attention to the distributional consequences of public policy choices. His work brings a critical political economy perspective to contemporary debates in relation to ecosystem services and natural capital, and the values of nature for human wellbeing. He has over twenty five years of experience working on conservation, environment and development issues in India. In 2018, he was honoured with the Royal Geographical Society’s Busk Medal, in recognition of his contributions to interdisciplinary research on environment and development.


  • 1993-1994: College Lecturer in Economics, St John's College, University of Cambridge
  • 1994-1997: WMI Research Fellow in Environment and Development, Oxford Centre for the Environment, Ethics and Society, Mansfield College, University of Oxford
  • 1998-present: Department of Geography & Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge.


  • BA (Hons) Economics, St Stephen's College, University of Delhi
  • BA (Hons) Economics, St John's College, University of Cambridge (MA Cantab.)
  • MPhil Economics, University of Cambridge
  • PhD University of Cambridge


My research focuses on the political economy of environment and development. I am concerned, in particular, with the often-hidden costs of environmental and developmental processes, and the need for scholarship to draw attention to the distributional consequences of public policy choices. My work focuses on the ways in which large-scale economic, societal and environmental transformations are governed, the values that frame how human societies engage with each other and with nature, and the networks of formal and informal institutions that are intertwined in everyday decision making across a variety of spatial and temporal scales.

I have led large scale intellectual and policy-oriented projects that involve interdisciplinary conversations across the natural and social sciences. Trained as an economist, but with a portfolio of research that now engages across the critical social sciences and their interface with the biological and environmental natural sciences, I inhabit the interdisciplinary intellectual 'borderlands' of a number of disciplines (Human Geography, Development Studies, Institutional Economics, Environmental Studies and Conservation), while being firmly rooted in the political economy tradition.

I was Founding Director (till September 2019) of the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, one of the University's Interdisciplinary Research Centres. I am closely involved with the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, and the Global Food Security Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, and also work with the Centre for Science and Policy , Cambridge Zero, and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

My research links to across the Department's thematic research groups, with a focus on Vital Geographies. My projects also relate to work in Infrastructural Geographies and the Geographies of Knowledge. I am a member of the Political Ecology research group, which meets regularly to discuss research in progress, to hear visiting speakers, or to discuss published papers.

Current and Recent Projects


Key publications: 


  • Carmenta, R., Coomes, D.A., DeClerck, F.A.J., Hart, A.K., Harvey, C.A., Milder, J., Reed, J., Vira, B. and Estrada-Carmona, N., 2020. Characterizing and Evaluating Integrated Landscape Initiatives. One Earth, v. 2, p.174-187. doi:10.1016/j.oneear.2020.01.009.
  • Howe, C., Corbera, E., Vira, B., Brockington, D. and Adams, W.M., 2020. Distinct positions underpin ecosystem services for poverty alleviation. Oryx, v. 54, p.375-382. doi:10.1017/s0030605318000261.


  • Bose, A., Garcia, C. and Vira, B., 2019. Mottled motivations and narrow incentives: Exploring limitations of direct incentive policies in the Western Ghats, India. Ecological Economics, v. 156, p.511-518. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2016.09.007.
  • Creed, I.F., Jones, J.A., Archer, E., Claassen, M., Ellison, D., McNulty, S.G., van Noordwijk, M., Vira, B., Wei, X., Bishop, K., Blanco, J.A., Gush, M., Gyawali, D., Jobbágy, E., Lara, A., Little, C., Martin-Ortega, J., Mukherji, A., Murdiyarso, D., Pol, P.O., Sullivan, C.A. and Xu, J., 2019. Managing Forests for Both Downstream and Downwind Water. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, v. 2, p.64-. doi:10.3389/ffgc.2019.00064.
  • Feger, C., Mermet, L., Vira, B., Addison, P.F.E., Barker, R., Birkin, F., Burns, J., Cooper, S., Couvet, D., Cuckston, T., Daily, G.C., Dey, C., Gallagher, L., Hails, R., Jollands, S., Mace, G., Mckenzie, E., Milne, M., Quattrone, P., Rambaud, A., Russell, S., Santamaria, M. and Sutherland, W.J., 2019. Four priorities for new links between conservation science and accounting research. Conservation Biology, v. 33, p.972-975. doi:10.1111/cobi.13254.
  • Kovács, E.K., Ojha, H., Neupane, K.R., Niven, T., Agarwal, C., Chauhan, D., Dahal, N., Devkota, K., Guleria, V., Joshi, T., Michael, N.K., Pandey, A., Singh, N., Singh, V., Thadani, R. and Vira, B., 2019. A political ecology of water and small-town urbanisation across the lower Himalayas. Geoforum, v. 107, p.88-98. doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2019.10.008.
  • Mansourian, S., Parrotta, J., Balaji, P., Bellwood‐Howard, I., Bhasme, S., Bixler, R.P., Boedhihartono, A.K., Carmenta, R., Jedd, T., Jong, W., Lake, F.K., Latawiec, A., Lippe, M., Rai, N.D., Sayer, J., Van Dexter, K., Vira, B., Visseren‐Hamakers, I., Wyborn, C. and Yang, A., 2019. Putting the pieces together: Integration for forest landscape restoration implementation. Land Degradation and Development, v. 31, p.419-429. doi:10.1002/ldr.3448.
  • Ojha, H., Kovacs, E., Devkota, K., Neupane, K.R., Dahal, N. and Vira, B., 2019. Local experts as the champions of water security in the Nepalese town of DhulikhelNew Angle: Nepal Journal of Social Science and Public Policy, v. 5, p.1-14.
  • Pan, Y. and Vira, B., 2019. Exploring natural capital using bibliometrics and social media data. Ecology and Society, v. 24, doi:10.5751/es-11118-240405.
  • Schleicher, J., Zaehringer, J.G., Fastré, C., Vira, B., Visconti, P. and Sandbrook, C., 2019. Protecting half of the planet could directly affect over one billion people. Nature Sustainability, v. 2, p.1094-1096. doi:10.1038/s41893-019-0423-y.
  • Vira, B. and Schneider, H., 2019. Biodiversity conservation initiatives have unfulfilled potential to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Oryx, v. 53, p.15-15. doi:10.1017/s0030605318001291.


  • Crane, N., Larner, W., Macklin, M., Malhi, Y., Rose, P. and Vira, B., 2018. Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Medals and Awards celebration 2018. Geographical Journal, v. 184, p.329-339. doi:10.1111/geoj.12267.
  • Milbank, C., Coomes, D. and Vira, B., 2018. Assessing the Progress of REDD+ Projects towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Forests, v. 9, p.589-. doi:10.3390/f9100589.
  • Phalan, B., Hayes, G., Brooks, S., Marsh, D., Howard, P., Costelloe, B., Vira, B., Kowalska, A. and Whitaker, S., 2018. Avoiding impacts on biodiversity through strengthening the first stage of the mitigation hierarchy. Oryx, v. 52, p.316-324. doi:10.1017/s0030605316001034.
  • Schleicher, J., Schaafsma, M., Burgess, N.D., Sandbrook, C., Danks, F., Cowie, C. and Vira, B., 2018. Poorer without It? The Neglected Role of the Natural Environment in Poverty and Wellbeing. Sustainable Development, v. 26, p.83-98. doi:10.1002/sd.1692.
  • Schleicher, J., Schaafsma, M. and Vira, B., 2018. Will the Sustainable Development Goals address the links between poverty and the natural environment?. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, v. 34, p.43-47. doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2018.09.004.


  • Green, J.M.H., Cranston, G.R., Sutherland, W.J., Tranter, H.R., Bell, S.J., Benton, T.G., Blixt, E., Bowe, C., Broadley, S., Brown, A., Brown, C., Burns, N., Butler, D., Collins, H., Crowley, H., DeKoszmovszky, J., Firbank, L.G., Fulford, B., Gardner, T.A., Hails, R.S., Halvorson, S., Jack, M., Kerrison, B., Koh, L.S.C., Lang, S.C., McKenzie, E.J., Monsivais, P., O’Riordan, T., Osborn, J., Oswald, S., Price Thomas, E., Raffaelli, D., Reyers, B., Srai, J.S., Strassburg, B.B.N., Webster, D., Welters, R., Whiteman, G., Wilsdon, J. and Vira, B., 2017. Research priorities for managing the impacts and dependencies of business upon food, energy, water and the environment. Sustainability Science, v. 12, p.319-331. doi:10.1007/s11625-016-0402-4.
  • Keeler, B.L., Chaplin-Kramer, R., Guerry, A.D., Addison, P.F.E., Bettigole, C., Burke, I.C., Gentry, B., Chembliss, L., Young, C., Travis, A.J., Darimont, C.T., Gordon, D.R., Hellmann, J., Kareiva, P., Monfort, S., Olander, L., Profeta, T., Possingham, H.P., Slotterback, C., Stirling, E., Ticktin, T. and Vira, B., 2017. Society Is Ready for a New Kind of Science—Is Academia?. BioSciencedoi:10.1093/biosci/bix051.
  • Satyal, P., Shrestha, K., Ojha, H., Vira, B. and Adhikari, J., 2017. A new Himalayan crisis? Exploring transformative resilience pathways. Environmental Development, v. 23, p.47-56. doi:10.1016/j.envdev.2017.02.010.
  • Vira, B., 2017. Introduction to the BASAS 2016 Special Issue. Contemporary South Asia, v. 25, p.3-6. doi:10.1080/09584935.2017.1303446.
  • Vogl, A.L., Goldstein, J.H., Daily, G.C., Vira, B., Bremer, L., McDonald, R.I., Shemie, D., Tellman, B. and Cassin, J., 2017. Mainstreaming investments in watershed services to enhance water security: Barriers and opportunities. Environmental Science & Policy, v. 75, p.19-27. doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2017.05.007.
  • Williams, P., James, A., McConnell, F. and Vira, B., 2017. Working at the margins? Muslim middle class professionals in India and the limits of ‘labour agency’. Environment and Planning A Economy and Space, v. 49, p.1266-1285. doi:10.1177/0308518x17692324.


  • Blanchard, L., Sandbrook, C., Fisher, J. and Vira, B., 2016. Investigating consistency of a pro-market perspective amongst conservationists. Conservation and Society, v. 14, p.112-124. doi:10.4103/0972-4923.183650.
  • Bose, A., Vira, B. and Garcia, C., 2016. Does environmental certification in coffee promote "business as usual"? A case study from the Western Ghats, India. Ambiodoi:10.1007/s13280-016-0796-3.
  • Kovacs, E., Kumar, C., Agarwal, C., Adams, W., Hope, R. and Vira, B., 2016. The politics of negotiation and implementation: a reciprocal water access agreement in the Himalayan foothills, India. Ecology and Society, v. 21, doi:10.5751/es-08462-210237.
  • Mukherjee, N., Dicks, L.V., Shackelford, G.E., Vira, B. and Sutherland, W.J., 2016. Comparing groups versus individuals in decision making: a systematic review protocol. Environmental Evidence, v. 5, p.19-. doi:10.1186/s13750-016-0066-7.
  • Oldekop, J.A., Fontana, L.B., Grugel, J., Roughton, N., Adu‐Ampong, E.A., Bird, G.K., Dorgan, A., Espinoza, M.A.V., Wallin, S., Hammett, D., Agbarakwe, E., Agrawal, A., Asylbekova, N., Azkoul, C., Bardsley, C., Bebbington, A.J., Carvalho, S., Chopra, D., Christopoulos, S., Crewe, E., Dop, M., Fischer, J., Gerretsen, D., Glennie, J., Gois, W., Gondwe, M., Harrison, L.A., Hujo, K., Keen, M., Laserna, R., Miggiano, L., Mistry, S., Morgan, R.J., Raftree, L.L., Rhind, D., Rodrigues, T., Roschnik, S., Senkubuge, F., Thornton, I., Trace, S., Ore, T., Valdés, R.M., Vira, B., Yeates, N. and Sutherland, W.J., 2016. 100 key research questions for the post‐2015 development agenda. Development Policy Review, v. 34, p.55-82. doi:10.1111/dpr.12147.


  • Blanchard, L., Vira, B. and Briefer, L., 2015. The lost narrative: Ecosystem service narratives and the missing Wasatch watershed conservation story. Ecosystem Services, v. 16, p.105-111. doi:10.1016/j.ecoser.2015.10.019.
  • Guerry, A.D., Polasky, S., Lubchenco, J., Chaplin-Kramer, R., Daily, G.C., Griffin, R., Ruckelshaus, M., Bateman, I.J., Duraiappah, A., Elmqvist, T., Feldman, M.W., Folke, C., Hoekstra, J., Kareiva, P.M., Keeler, B.L., Li, S., McKenzie, E., Ouyang, Z., Reyers, B., Ricketts, T.H., Rockström, J., Tallis, H. and Vira, B., 2015. Natural capital and ecosystem services informing decisions: From promise to practice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, v. 112, p.7348-7355. doi:10.1073/pnas.1503751112.
  • Thieme, T.A., Bedi, H.P. and Vira, B., 2015. Geographies of corporate practice in development: Contested capitalism and encounters. Geoforum, v. 59, p.215-218. doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2014.11.023.
  • Vira, B., 2015. Taking Natural Limits Seriously: Implications for Development Studies and the Environment. Development and Change, v. 46, p.762-776. doi:10.1111/dech.12175.


Teaching and Supervisions

  • Geographical Tripos (Undergraduate level)
  • MPhil in Conservation Leadership
  • MPhil in Modern South Asian Studies

Other Professional Activities

Geographical region

South Asia
South East Asia
Head of Department of Geography
Founder of the Conservation Research Institute


Departments and institutes: 
Research keywords: 
Political Economy
Ecosystem Services
Tropical Forests