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University of Bristol researchers scoop tree-mendous award

Dr Tommaso Jucker

Dr Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne

Press release issued: 20 October 2023

Understanding what causes trees to die is one of the biggest uncertainties preventing us from forecasting how forests will respond to the growing threat of climate change.

But pioneering research led by tree expert Dr Tommaso Jucker, Senior Research Fellow in Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol, holds the key to tackling this critical knowledge gap.

Dr Jucker is among 30 extraordinary researchers, including two from the University, to win a national 2023 Philip Leverhulme Prize for his vital work on forest ecology and global environmental change.

The 3D structure of the world’s forests is a key property of these ecosystems which directly relates to their ability to store carbon and provide habitats for biodiversity.

Dr Jucker’s research aims to build a global picture of how forests respond and recover from disturbances, such as logging, droughts and wildfires, by mapping their 3D structure using cutting-edge airborne laser scanning. This technology allows Dr Jucker and his team to capture forest canopies in exquisite detail, including mapping the gaps between trees that serve as a key indicator of tree mortality and forest dynamics.

Over the next few years, Dr Jucker and his team will track how forest canopies all over the world change in response such disturbances. The results can be used to identify and prioritise international restoration efforts to help mitigate the impact of climate change and reverse biodiversity declines.

Dr Jucker said: “I am immensely honoured to receive this award, and extremely grateful to all the wonderful colleagues, collaborators and mentors that have made this possible.

“This prize will allow us to embark on the next phase of our research exploring how forests are responding to unprecedented environmental change so that we can figure out how to keep these amazing ecosystems on the right track – I couldn’t be more excited!”

Chosen from over 400 nominations, the Trust offered five prizes in each of the following subject areas: Biological Sciences, History, Law, Mathematics and Statistics, Philosophy and Theology, and Sociology and Social Policy.

Dr Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne, Associate Professor in the University of Bristol Law School, also received one of the Philip Leverhulme Prizes for his research in the field of international law and armed conflict.

Over the last 20 years international law rules developed in the aftermath of the Second World War to regulate armed conflicts have come under immense pressure from changes in the nature of armed conflict. These changes include the growing prominence of conflicts involving non-State armed groups and the emergence of new weapons systems, such as armed drones, that make it easier for States to target their enemies abroad. The result has been considerable uncertainty over how international law regulates these different types of conflict.

Dr Hill-Cawthorne’s research is at the forefront of these pressing debates, developing novel and comprehensive accounts of the role of international law in regulating contemporary conflicts. A leading expert in this field, he has advised United Nations Special Rapporteurs, the UK Ministry of Defence and the International Bar Association, and presented to academics and government lawyers around the world.

Future work includes writing a new book on the application of human rights law in armed conflict, and developing a new project on the role of international courts in addressing violations in the context of armed conflict and achieving justice for victims.

Dr Hill-Cawthorne said “I am absolutely honoured to receive this award. There are few areas of international law as contested as the law that applies in armed conflict, with different States and scholars taking staunchly opposing views on such fundamental questions as the role of human rights law in armed conflict, the due process safeguards available to detainees, and the circumstances in which it is lawful to lethally target someone.

“This uncertainty exposes victims of war to tremendous risk. My research tries to grapple with this uncertainty by offering ways through these intractable debates and the prize will allow me to continue this important work.”

The prizes recognise and celebrate the achievements of outstanding researchers whose work has already attracted international recognition and whose future careers are exceptionally promising. Each worth £100,000, they may be used for any purpose to advance the winner’s research.

The annual scheme commemorates the contribution to the work of the Levehulme Trust made by Philip, Third Viscount Leverhulme and grandson of William Lever, the founder of the Trust. This year five prizes were offered in each of the subject areas: Biological Sciences, History, Law, Mathematics and Statistics, Philosophy and Theology, and Sociology and Social Policy.

Professor Anna Vignoles, Director of the Leverhulme Trust, said: “In its twenty-second year, this scheme continues to attract applications from exceptionally high calibre researchers. The Leverhulme Trust is thrilled to award prizes to academics undertaking work on an impressive range of topics, from plant evolution to the history of capitalism, family law to theoretical statistics, and the philosophy of science to human trafficking.

“We are very proud to support these researchers through the next stage of their careers. Selecting the winners gets tougher each year, and we are incredibly grateful to the reviewers and panel members who help us in our decision-making.”


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