Interdisciplinary blog

MDR Vacation Bursary Project: Modelling forest growth to determine future sustainable forest harvest rates in Southern Malawi

July 25, 2013
by Luke Goater

By Emma Green, undergraduate student (Master of Environmental Science), Faculty of Engineering and the Environment.


I am about to start the fourth year of my degree in Masters of Environmental Science: Sustainable Management pathway. I have really enjoyed the multidisciplinary approach that my degree course has offered me so far and to further my experience I have always wanted to go abroad to carry out research for my dissertation in order to experience a different culture, whilst using GIS (Geographical Information Systems) as a mapping tool. I was fortunate to gain this opportunity in collaboration with the ESPA’s (Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation) ASSETS (Attaining Sustainable Services from Ecosystems through Trade-off Scenarios) project which currently has research bases in Malawi, Columbia and Peru focussing on poverty – environment interactions and food security. I have chosen to carry out research into forest growth rates in Malawi, as this affects many aspects of people’s livelihoods.

Emma GreenWith a team of seven other Southampton students, I recently spent a month in Zomba, situated in Southern Malawi. I collected forest, settlement, cropland and grassland plot data within four villages across the region to gain a better understanding of the type and number of trees that occur in different land uses. I also undertook individual and group interviews with members of local communities, focussing on the management practices that occur and will support this with secondary data gained from household surveys.

This will provide me with the information I need to model the current and future growth and off-take rates of trees in the region, using three forest growth rate models – LPJ GUESS, SYMFOR and MYRLIN. I am then hoping to map the tree cover across the four villages and finally combining all of my findings to determine if the current off-take rates are sustainable.

I now have until May next year to insert the data I have collected into forest growth models in order to attain if the current rate of wood off-take is sustainable. I am hoping that my research will enable the villagers to manage their resources in a more sustainable way, which will improve their livelihoods in the future.  I have really enjoyed the experience of researching in another country and hopefully the experience I have gained will help me with whatever I would like to do after I have completed my degree!


Supervisor: Simon Willcock.


MDR Vacation Bursary blog series available at:


Further details about Ecosystem Services research carried out by the University of Southampton can be found on the Sustainability Science at Southampton website:


Categories: Blog. Tags: ASSETS project, ecosystem services, Emma Green, ESPA, forest management, GIS, Sustainability Science at Southampton, and vacation bursary.