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Clare Bissell, BA, MSc

PhD Candidate, Department of Geography: The Political Ecology of Trees and Birds in Ghana.

Clare is a political ecologist and professional community development practitioner.


My research spans the field of political ecology, with a particular interest in participatory work with communities that informs policy and action on local and global issues. In the past, I have carried out ethnographic research into ‘rewilding’, exploring the different political and economic values and narratives that are influencing conservation praxis in this new field. I juxtaposed these findings with cultural understandings of place, space and nature among a semi-subsistence rural village community within the rewilding zone. This research ignited an interest in multispecies and assemblage studies, as well as a curiosity about how knowledge is constructed through policy and multi-dimensional authority structures, and how these play out at a local level. My current PhD project (details below) combines these interests as I undertake a political ecology case study of of people, power and trees in Ghana.


  • 2016-present: PhD Candidate, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge (Clare College), ESRC-funded studentship.
  • 2014-present: Freelance Youth and Community Development Practitioner, Qualitative Researcher, Creative Arts Facilitator (music and environmental arts), and AMBIT-recognised Non-Managerial Supervisor, UK.
  • 2011-2014: Youth Development Officer and Department Manager, The Winch, London.
  • 2010-2011: Youthworker and Manager of Sandy Youth Centre, Central Bedfordshire Integrated Youth Support Service
  • 2009-2013: Professional Practice Tutor and Supervisor, Ridley Hall Theological College, Cambridge.
  • 2005-2010: Various roles working with young people and marginalised communities in London and Bedford.

Academic qualifications

  • 2014-2015: MSc Anthropology, Environment and Development (Distinction), University College London. Thesis Title: How the zimbru got her tale: an ethnographic case study exploring local and global narratives behind “the bison comeback” in Romania.
  • 2005-2008: BA in Youth and Community Work with Applied Theology (First), Oxford Brookes University. Dissertation Title: Carolyn Merchant’s Environmental ‘Partnership Ethics’ – theory and application in an urban setting.

Professional qualifications

  • 2012: Certificate (Level 6) in Professional Supervision, George Williams College. Action Research Project: How far can supervisory structures nurture critical thinking?
  • 2005-2007: JNC Level 2 Professional Qualification in Youth and Community Work, Oxford Brookes University.


Can’t see the wood for the trees: Practices, Perceptions and Power driving tree cover change in Kwahu East, Ghana

Main Supervisor: Professor Bill Adams
Second Supervisor: Juliet Vickery (RSPB)

Existing research indicates a decline in the populations of several afro-palearctic migrant birds, for example the wood warbler, turtledove and cuckoo. One cause of these declines has been identified as changes to tree cover within the West African forest-farm mosaic landscape, where the migratory birds winter. Tree loss is often explained by human population growth, intensified farming practices and illegal logging. However, the multifaceted and interconnecting social, political, and economic drivers of change are not fully understood.

Local drivers of change are culturally and environmentally embedded, therefore, a political ecology case study approach has been taken to explore the complex relationship between people, power and trees. A field site known to ornithologists studying wood warblers has been chosen as the location: a farming community within the semi-arid agriculture-forest transition zone in Kwahu East, Ghana. The research examines local knowledge, livelihoods, practice and agency in relation to tree cultivation, preservation, planting, and cutting; and investigate the cultural, political and ecological factors influencing these decisions. The methodology gathers both qualitative and quantitative data using mixed-methods, including: participant observation, oral histories, interviews, community meetings and multi-stakeholder action workshops.

This PhD is being carried out in partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, co-sponsors of this project). There are two overarching research priorities for this project. The first is to find out what people do with trees on farmland within the transitional forest zone, and why; and the second is to understand the agency dynamics of and between those who are involved in making decisions about how trees are managed.

Research group affiliations:


Conferences and Workshops

  • RSPB Science and Policy Workshop, CCI, Cambridge. Seeing the wood for the warblers (poster and presentation).
  • Sept 2018: Ghanaian Scholars Inaugural Conference, Coventry. Drivers of tree cover change in Kwahu East, Ghana.
  • June 2018: Political Ecologies in the Global South Workshop, University of Cambridge. Can’t see the wood for the trees: Perceptions, Practices and Power driving tree cover change in Kwahu East, Ghana
  • Aug 2017: RGS-IBG Annual Conference, RGS London. Decolonizing Rewilding Praxis: How taking participation seriously could define a new ‘discipline of hope’
  • April 2017: RGS-IBG PGS Mid-term Early Career Researchers Conference, Cardiff University. Can’t see the wood (warbler) for the trees: methodological challenges of implementing a micropolitical eco-ethnography in Kwahu East, Ghana.
  • September 2016: The Future of Wild Europe Conference, Leeds University. Rewilding the Carpathians: local and global narratives behind ‘the bison comeback’ in Romania.


  • 2009-2013: Professional Practice Tutor and Supervisor for undergraduate students at Ridley Hall Theological College.