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Ivan Scales, BSc MSc PhD

Sir Harvey McGrath Associate Professor in Geography, St Catharine’s College


My research focuses on the political ecology of natural resource use and biodiversity conservation in a range of geographical contexts (from mangrove forests in Madagascar to coastal communities in Brittany, France).

I have a particular interest in the following topics: conservation social science; coastal communities and livelihoods; forest management, conservation and tree planting; smallholder agriculture; finance and ethical investment (for conservation and development); the diversity of environmental values (especially green capitalism and radical alternatives); novel approaches to biodiversity conservation; the 20th century environmental history of Africa (with a focus on French colonialism).

I am interested in receiving expressions of interest from potential PhD students who would like to carry out research in these areas. Please send a CV and 1000-word proposal of research.


  • 2022 – present: Associate Professor in Geography, St Catharine’s College
  • 2008 – 2022: College Lecturer in Geography, St Catharine’s College.
  • 2001 – 2004: Project Officer and Madagascar Course Coordinator for the Tropical Biology Association


  • 2004 – 2008. PhD in Geography, University of Cambridge. Thesis title: ‘Forest frontiers: The political ecology of landscape change in western Madagascar’. My research focused on the underlying drivers of forest loss in the central Menabe region of western Madagascar between 1896 and 2005.
  • 2000 – 2001. MSc in the Anthropology and Ecology of Development, University College London.
  • 1996 – 1999. BSc in Ecology, University of Durham

Awards and scholarships

  • Royal Geographical Society Environment and Sustainability Research Grant (2016)
  • Royal Geographical Society Small Research Grant (2012)
  • Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities Early Career Fellowship (2011/2012)


My current research areas are:

Coastal futures, livelihoods and communities

The world’s seas and oceans are under an ever-greater range of pressures, from overfishing to pollution, mining and climate change. At the same time governments and firms are looking to develop ‘blue economies’ based on the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem” (World Bank).

New economic activities are emerging (e.g. aquaculture, ‘blue finance’ and ‘blue carbon’ sequestration), bringing new stakeholders and interest groups. How are coastal communities adapting to rapidly changing political, economic, and environmental conditions? How are the costs and benefits of different economic activities distributed?

The political ecology of tropical forests, tree planting and conservation

Tropical deforestation has been a key priority in international conservation policy for the last 30 years. Forests are receiving renewed attention through the possibility of reducing global carbon emissions by preserving forest cover, as well as sequestering carbon through tree planting. How are forest conservation, tree planting and new forms of conservation finance changing rural livelihoods and landscapes?

The emerging political economy of agriculture in Africa

My research looks at the political, economic, and environmental dimensions of emerging forms of agriculture in Africa and considers their implications for rural livelihoods and biodiversity. Recent food crises have led to questions about the future of agriculture, especially with regards to smallholders. The last decade has also seen the rapid expansion of biofuels, new seed varieties, as well as new forms of finance (e.g. social impact investment).

How are different individuals, households and communities responding to such changes and what are the implications for food security, economic growth and sustainability?

The diversity of environmental values

People connect with the environment in diverse ways – from organised religion to personal values. Their attitudes towards nature are shaped by culture, age, wealth, gender, and education. My research focuses on the environmental values held by different individuals and groups (from rural households to research scientists and conservation organisations) and how these play into the politics of natural resource use. How do people see ‘nature’ and how does this affect how they interact with it? I am particularly interested in the emergence of environmental narratives (stories that help people to simplify and explain complex environmental processes). How do different narratives come about and how do they influence the politics of resource use?

The 20th century environmental history of Francophone Africa

The arrival of European colonialism in Africa saw social and environmental upheaval, as government policies sought to change livelihoods from subsistence agriculture and pastoralism to more intensive forms of agriculture for the production of export commodities. Following independence, many African nations continued to pursue plans based on the modernisation and commoditisation of rural livelihoods.

My work draws on archival research and oral histories to understand how and why African landscapes and livelihoods changed during the 20th century. I am also interested in the theories, ideologies and narratives that have underpinned state agricultural, forestry and conservation policies.


[Publications will load automatically from the University’s publications database…]


  • Part 1A Human Geography
  • Part 1B Development
  • Part II Political Ecology in the Global South
  • MPhil in Conservation Leadership

External activities

  • Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society
  • Member of the Cambridge Conservation Research Institute