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Dr Carolyn Petersen

Research Fellow

Lazenby House G.01

Carolyn is an interdisciplinary and environmental social scientist. Her active research interests are at the intersection between social science and environmental research, including governance of nature-based solutions and adaptation to climate change, interdisciplinary research, sustainable tourism, environment-health and wellbeing links, natural capital and economic valuation, and governance of natural resources. Her research is also informed by consideration of issues of citizenship, participation, gender and the voluntary / community sector.

She is currently based at the Centre for Rural Policy Research, working on the RENEW project ( ), researching collaboration across disciplines and with policy makers and stakeholders across the four NERC-funded Changing the Environment programmes. She is also continuing research from the EU Horizon 2020 funded REGREEN project (2022-24), working with Prof. Duncan Russel ( ). This project involved research on governance and policy making / policy learning for innovative urban nature-based solutions (NBS) in order to adapt to climate change (e.g. flooding and heat effects). From Sep2022-Jun2023 she was also working on the EU Interreg funded project Promoting Adaptation to Changing Coasts ( ), a coastal climate change adaptation and managed realignment project, for the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust (Clinton Devon Estates). This included socio-economic work on natural capital, visitor perceptions, and stakeholder engagement.

She was previously working on the EU Interreg-funded project Bio-Cultural Heritage Tourism ( ), investigating increasing environmental sustainability in tourism interventions, in partnership with four UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in England and France, and Pas-de-Calais Tourisme.

On the theme of health and wellbeing-environment links, in 2022 she carried out an evaluation of the economic and qualitative mental health and wellbeing benefits of the South West Coast Path, including a focus on access and inclusion, commissioned by the South West Coast Path Association (SWCPA) and Natural England. This was a follow up to an earlier report completed in 2021 evaluating the physical and mental health and wellbeing benefits of the South West Coast Path in conjunction with the SWCPA.
Carolyn also worked on a gender equality and food security project in 2021 with Prof. Toby Pennington (Geography) and the Instituto Ouro Verde entitled ‘Investigating the contributions of women’s agroforestry activities to renegotiating gender equality and food security in Brazil’.
She previously worked on the EU-funded project SIM4NEXUS (, carrying out policy and governance analysis on the nexus involving water, energy, food and agriculture in the South West.
Carolyn also completed a NERC-funded Valuing Nature Placement in 2018 in partnership with Clinton Devon Estates and the European Centre for Environment and Human Health on the links between environment and health and wellbeing. The project aimed to quantify the health and wellbeing value of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths and explore the potential of partnerships with private sector organisations to increase the associated benefits. It included an assessment of the economic value of this site using visitor data and economic valuation tools including travel cost, ORVal (now NEVO), the WHO HEAT tool and the MOVES tool, and also involved conducting interviews and a workshop with stakeholders. The project blog can be found here.
Previously (2014-2018) Carolyn worked with Prof Oliver James in the Politics Department on a 4-country ESRC-funded project entitled the Structure and Organisation of Government (SOG-PRO), which investigated and developed innovative ways to describe and understand organisational dynamics at central government level. Prior to that she worked with Oliver James (2013-14) on the EU-funded research programme 'Coordinating for Cohesion in the Public Sector of the Future' (, a public management research consortium consisting of 11 universities in 10 countries, investigating blame attribution / blame shifting as a result of contracting out of public services, using survey experiment methodology.
She holds a PhD in the Social Sciences from the University of Edinburgh, which focused on citizenship and civil society struggles over livelihoods and adult educational access in coastal communities in South Africa. Prior to joining Exeter University she carried out research for Plymouth University, DFID and UNESCO, and taught in the Politics department at Newcastle University. She has also worked in the voluntary sector in the UK (social care; community development and community renewable energy in Scotland).

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