Professor Philip James
School of Science, Engineering and Environment
Professor of Ecology
At the University of Bradford, I studied Applied Biology, specializing in Plant Protection. Immediately after graduating I was employed by United Biscuits (Agriculture) as an agronomist with responsibility for overseeing the growing, harvesting, and storage of potatoes destined to be made into crisps. While working for United Biscuits (Agriculture), I completed my PhD (University of Wales (Swansea)).
My doctoral studies focused on a commercially important aspect of plant physiology and how potatoes responded to certain cultural practices. The discoveries I made were important commercially and led to improvements in cultural practices and to a further research programme that investigated the sub-cellular changes responsible for the phenological traits I had discovered.
In 1985, I left United Biscuits (Agriculture) and trained as a teacher, taking up a post in Further Education, first, in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, and then Hull, East Yorkshire.
In 1994, I came to the University of Salford, where I have developed an expertise in ecosystem ecology and urban ecology. I started as a junior lecturer and am now Professor of Ecology. In addition to my teaching and research activities, I lead the Ecosystems and Environment Research Centre within the School of Environment and Life Sciences. Researchers in this centre investigate how the processes of natural variability and man-made change work. Together they take a whole system approach, working at scales from global to local and over timescales from millions of years in the past to the present and into the future.
Our research helps our partners to deliver responsible management of the environment with multiple benefits, for example, conserving wildlife, understanding the consequences of environment and climate change, and the recognizing opportunities provided by urbanization.
I am an editor of two international research journals and review publications for many other journals. I am a board member of the Local Nature Partnership for Greater Manchester and am working on Defra’s Urban Pioneer Delivery Group. For many years I led the Irwell River Catchment Partnership. I chair the Research Board of the Mersey Gateway Environmental Trust. I will shortly take up an appointment as a Trustee of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust. I currently hold honorary positions at the University of Cambridge and the University of Manchester.
Areas of research
Urban Ecology, Landscape Ecology, Landscape, Conservation Ecology
I support learning on a number of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes within the School of Environment and Life Sciences and across the University. In the sessions I lead for the first years, I concentrate on developing an understanding of the core concepts of ecology and biogeography, and I share my enthusiasm for the natural world (birds, insects, particularly moths).
Much of my teaching focuses on developing the core skills required by practising ecologists. I then build on these in the final year modules to demonstrate how that knowledge is used to address real-world ecological and conservation issues. I lead a module on Habitat Conservation and Restoration where we develop the knowledge and skills acquired in the first two years to address practical conservation issues – creating management plans, conducting surveys, and identifying best practice.
In addition, I lead modules on our MA Wildlife Documentary Production programme, supporting students as they identify and research wildlife stories, turning these into films. I also supervise the production of a number of the final films.
In addition, I present guest lectures on other modules within the School.
My research focus lies in understanding and addressing the direct and indirect ecological issues associated with urban growth. Direct issues include those of changing habitats within urban areas, the provision of green space, construction of new buildings according to ecological standards, and the wildlife that lives in our cities including both beneficial and pests and diseases. Indirect issues include climate change, food production resulting in land use change outside the urban environment, tourism, and biodiversity loss.
Over the years that I my research activities have resulted in collaboration around the world and have led to over 100 publications, initiatives making changes on the ground and I have supervised over 20 successful PhD candidates. In the 1990s, I was a co-instigator of a project that led to the establishment of the first Ecological Network in the UK. We also created similar networks in two regions in Italy. We explored how to re-connect ecologically functional networks in landscapes that were dominated by human related infrastructure – towns, cities, roads, and rail lines. A few years later I applied this learning to create an ecological framework for Greater Manchester. Working in the Upper Mersey Estuary my research demonstrated how saltmarsh and other riverside habitats in a highly urbanised landscape can be improved to function more effectively from an ecological perspective. Interventions were made that led to the return of breeding birds long absent from the area.
During the coronavirus pandemic the importance of open space within cities was made clear for everyone to see. These areas provide space for physical exercise, for meeting people outdoors (subject to the restrictions on meetings others in force), and benefit people’s mental wellbeing. I was recently co-investigator in Research Council funded project that investigated the functionality of urban green space for older people and those living with early-stage dementia. The data collected indicate the importance of active engagement with the natural environment within cities.
Currently I am a co-investigator in the IGNITION project which is installing and demonstrating the benefits of green walls, green roofs, rain gardens, and city trees. It is hoped that this work will lead to significant changes in the urban landscape that will mitigate climate change and lead to more biodiverse rich urban environments which also improve people’s quality of life and wellbeing.
- Advanced Certificate in Professional Development Teaching (University of Salford).1997
- PGCE Middle Years (CNAA).1986
- PhD Biology (University of Wales (Swansea).1985
- BSc (Hons) Applied Biology (University of Bradford).1980
- Chartered Biologist (CBiol)
- Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology (FRSB)
- Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (FCIEEM)
- Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA)
- Member of the British Ecological Society