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Alasdair Neilson

Alasdair Neilson

PhD Candidate

Alasdair's main interest lies in political ecology and political economy. His current research focuses on the political ecology of international and national afforestation targets, analysing the origin of these targets and how they 'hit the ground' in East Africa



  • Project Officer, Fidra (October 2017 - July 2018)
  • Researcher and Development Officer, University of Edinburgh (February 2017 – October 2017)
  • Lead Researcher and Grant Writer, the Turing Trust (September 2016 – August 2017)


  • MSc Global Environment, Politics and Society, University of Edinburgh (Distinction)
  • MA Sociology (First Class Honours)

Awards and scholarships

  • ESRC DTP Studentship with Pembroke College, Cambridge, (2018)
  • Prize for MSc Excellence in Politics and International Relations, University of Edinburgh (2016)
  • Principle Fund, University of Edinburgh (2016)
  • Global Environment & Society Academy Award, University of Edinburgh (2016)
  • Global Development Academy Award, University of Edinburgh (2016)
  • Graduate Grant, University of Edinburgh (2016)
  • Domestic Dissertation Grant, University of Edinburgh (2016)
  • Award for Most Outstanding Sociology Student, University of Aberdeen (2016)


From the Bonn Challenge to Great Green Wall and AFR100, the last decade has witnessed the creation of multiple international tree planting pledges. Indeed, trees are increasingly seen as a 'silver bullet' for a wide array of environmental and social issues. Sub-Saharan Africa has been a particular focus for these initiatives, where efforts have primarily focused on restoring 'degraded landscapes' and tree planting in agroforestry systems. However, a lack of specificity and reliable data as well as the conflation of terms such as 'tree cover' and 'forest cover' means that these targets often take on a life of their own, being interpreted and enacted at both a national and local level in different complex ways. Research has also shown that a large proportion of these pledges are made up of fast-growing tree species, which are often preferred to slower growing indigenous species. Indeed, trees like Eucalyptus and Cypress have become entangled in increasingly complex webs of value, their fast-growing nature becoming central to meeting often competing environmental aims (afforestation, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, etc.) and national and local economic needs (wood fuel, timber, etc.). This can cause friction between actors at different scales, creating new sites of contestation and new hybrid landscapes.

My research focuses on unpacking how these targets are created and how they are delivered on the ground in the political and ecological context of Kenya.


  • Neilson, A. (2019). 'Disenchanted Natures: A Critical Analysis of the Contested Plan to Reintroduce the Eurasian Lynx into the Lake District National Park'. Capitalism Nature Socialism, 1 – 19
  • Neilson, A. (2018). 'Considering the importance of metaphors for marine conservation'. Marine Policy, 97 (Special Issue), 239-243.
  • Neilson, A. (2017). 'The Socio-political Importance of Blackouts in South Africa'. SocialSpace, 12 (3) 45 – 67.
  • Neilson, A. (2017). 'Beneath the Waves: Perception and Oceanic Degradation'. Earthlines, 5 (17) 21-25


  • Tutor, Sustainable Development 1a: Introducing Sustainable Development. University of Edinburgh (2016 -2017)
  • Tutor, Sustainable Development 2a: Perspectives on Sustainable Development, University of Edinburgh (2016 – 2017)
  • Guest Lecturer, Research Methodologies and Dissertation Management, University of Edinburgh (2016 – 2017)

External activities

  • Research Affiliate, British Institute in Eastern Africa (2019 – present)
  • Lead for ESRC DTP Sustainability, Prosperity and Well-being Thematic Cluster (2019 – present)