Dr Esther Carmen

Environmental Governance Researcher
Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences
Esther is an interdisciplinary qualitative environmental social scientists interested in how different social actors (i.e. scientific, policy, community and business) can and do shape socio-environmental change processes. Her work focuses on advancing our understanding on how to work with and better involve these different actors in ways that can help guide the development of more sustainable collective futures. Her current research relates to environmental governance more broadly, within Scotland and across Europe with a focus on the involvement of the private sector (different economic sectors and businesses) for mainstreaming nature-based approaches at scale, to deliver land-based and freshwater ecosystem restoration whilst also addressing societal challenges.

Since her appointment at the James Hutton Institute in 2022 Esther’s current research focuses on understanding of the actual and potential role of the private sector for restoring degraded ecosystems at scale for shaping more sustainable collective futures.

This includes research relating to different economic sectors, e.g. the Scottish Whisky sector and the European Hydropower sector and examining if nature-based solutions and natural capital approaches could be useful to enhance the role of the private sector and how this could be achieved in practice. Such approaches have been gaining traction within science and policy communities as they encompass a broader framing of action to restore ecosystems that draws explicit attention to the interrelationships between society and the natural environment. For example, for private sector actors this involves drawing attention to the connections between ecosystems functions and core business activities and the challenges that could be addressed and benefits that could arise for businesses by working with nature.

Esther’s current research builds on her previous research that examined the role and interactions between other types of social actors and within large system change initiatives for develop practical and scientific insights on how collectively we can guide more sustainable futures.

This involved exploring;

Food system actors working within three actions domains (schools, businesses and farms) within the Yorkshire food system. Working with these actors this work focused on understanding current challenges, developing shared visions for a future regenerative food system and exploring current innovations (technological and social) to inform the development of transformational change strategies. (2021-2022). Esther has continued her involvement in this large UKRI 5 year project by supervising (secondary supervisory) a PhD student at the University of York who is applying novel systems methods for exploring key intervention points for transforming food systems, with conceptual advances on the concept of synergy and empirical contributions on enablers and barriers for synergistic action. (2021-present).

Interactions between policy actors across policy domains with a focus on understanding potential entry points for strengthening policy synergies. This study involved Esther being embedded in the Scottish Government Resilience policy unity for 6 months and contributed to her PhD dissertation. (2019-2021).

Interactions between different community-based actors with a focus on the role of social relationships and relationship qualities within different community change initiatives in the context of complex climate change challenges (e.g. a community fridge to help reduce waste or increasing community emergency resilience to adverse weather), drawing on social capital and community resilience literatures. These studies formed a core part of her PhD dissertation. (2017-2021).

Community-based actors and collective action in the context complex climate change related challenges with Esther embedded within the Scottish Borders Council for a year to coordinate an action – research project working with three communities. This involved futures and systems approaches, stakeholder engagement, participatory methods and workshop facilitation, drawing on literature from across disciplines, for example in relation to resilience. (2015-2017).

Biodiversity policy implementation actors examining the effectiveness of arguments for protecting biodiversity drawing on argumentation, and critical discourse literatures. (2013-2015).   

Interactions between science and policy communities drawing on the science-policy interface, transdisciplinarity/ knowledge co-production, and participation literatures. (2012-2015).

Her PhD dissertation was titled ‘How do social relationships, amongst other diverse factors, shape community change initiatives in the context of climate change? She structured her dissertation around a conceptual study and three empirical studies that examined the role of social relationships and different relationship-based strategies for progressing community sustainability initiatives, building community resilience and for strengthening synergies across policy domains.

Esther’s research approach is underpinned by complex systems and futures thinking, transdisciplinarity and is strongly solutions orientated. She has expertise in the use of various qualitative social science methods (semi-structured interviewing, focus groups, participant observation and participatory methods).

Prior to her research career Esther worked as a practitioner in freshwater fisheries and conservation for the Environment Agency (at an operational and strategic level) for 8 years, and for 2 years in wetland management and community natural resource management in Cambodia.

Current research projects


Examining how to transform economic sectors in order to mainstream a Nature-based Solutions approach across economic sectors in the EU. Providing the lead for engaging the hydropower sector to co-develop an EU Hydropower sector strategy.

Galvanising Change via Natural Capital

Examining the motivations, opportunities and challenges for mainstreaming an NbS approach within the whisky sector in Scotland.

Achieving Multipurpose Nature-based Solutions

Examining if and how small and medium size businesses with close links to the landscape support a Nature-based Solutions approach within a local area.



Past research


Peer Reviewed Publications since appointment

Ibrahim, A., Marshall, K., Carmen, E., Blackstock, K., Waylen, K. A., (under review) Inclusion in Nature-based Solutions: The why, who, when and how of stakeholder engagement, Environmental Science and Policy.

Carmen E., Fazey, I., Friend, R., (2024). Relationship qualities and community-based sustainability initiatives. Sustainability Science. 19 (3), pp 905-920. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-024-01492-8

Reed, M. et al, (2024) Reimagining the language of engagement in a post-stakeholder world. Sustainability Science, pp 1-10 https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-024-01496-4

Buckton, S., et al (2024) Transformative action towards regenerative food systems: A large-scale case study. PLOS S+T. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4718690

Carmen, E., Fazey, I., Bergseng, A.M. and Om, E.S., (2023). Building policy synergies: A case of community resilience, climate change and community empowerment policies in Scotland. Environmental Science & Policy150, p.103579. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2023.103579 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2023.103579

Buckton, S.J., Fazey, I., Sharpe, B., et al (2023). The Regenerative Lens: A conceptual framework for regenerative social-ecological systems. One Earth6(7), pp.824-842. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.oneear.2023.06.006

Peer reviewed publications prior to appointment

Doherty, B,. Bryant, M., Denby, K,. Fazey, I., Bridle, S., Hawkes, C., Cain, M., Banwart, S., Collins, L., Pickett, K., Allen, M., Ball, P., Gardner, G., Carmen, E., Sinclair, M., Kluczkovski, A., Ehgartner, U., Morris, B., James, A., Yap, C., Om, S., Connolly, A., Transformations to Regenerative Food Systems- An outline of the FixOurFood project (2022). Nutrition Bulletin. 47:1 106-114 https://doi.org/10.1111/nbu.12536

Carmen, E., Faey, I., Canigia, G, Anthony, J, Penny, L. (2022). The social dynamics in establishing complex community climate change initiatives: The case of a community fridge in Scotland, Sustainability Science. 17:1 259-273. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-021-01075-x

Carmen E, Fazey, I., Ross, H., Bedinger, M., Smith, F.M., Prager, K., McClymont, K., Morrison, D., (2022). Building Community Resilience in a context of climate change: The role of social capital. Ambio 1-17 https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-021-01678-9

Fazey, I., Carmen, E., Ross, H., Roa-Williams, J., Hodgson, A., Searle, B., Kenter, J., Knox, K., Butlet, J., Murray, K., Smith, F., Stringer, L., Thankappan, S., (2021). Social dynamics of community resilience in the face of climate change. Sustinability Science. 16 (5), 1731-1747 https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-021-00950-x

Cazzolla Gatti R., Menéndez L. P., Laciny A., Bobadilla Rodríguez H., Bravo Morante G., Carmen E., Dorninger C., Fabris F., Grunstra N.D.S., Schnorr S. L., Stuhlträger J., Luis Villanueva Hernandez A., Jakab M., Sarto-Jackson I., Caniglia G., (2020). Diversity lost: COVID-19 as a phenomenon of the total environment. Science of The Total Environment, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.144014

Fazey, I., Schäpke, N., Caniglia, G., et al (2020). Transforming knowledge systems for life on earth: Visions of future systems and how to get there. Energy Research and Social Science, 70, 101724. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2020.101724

McClymont, K., Morroson, D., Carmen, E., Beevers, L., (2019) Flood resileince: A systematic review. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2020.101724

Fazey, I., Carmen, E., Chapin, F. S., Ross, H., Rao-Williams, J., Lyon, C., Connon, I. L. C., Searle, B. A. & Knox, K. (2018a). Community resilience for a 1.5° C world. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, https://doi.org/10.1080/09640568.2019.1641474

Fazey, I., Schäpke, N., Caniglia, G., Patterson, J. & et al. (2018b) Ten essentials for action-oriented and second order energy transitions, transformations and climate change research. Energy research & social science, 40, 54-70. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2017.11.026

Carmen, E., Watt, A., Carvalho, L., Dick, J., Fazey, I., Garcia-Blanco, G., Grizzetti, B., Hauck, J., Izakovicova, Z., Kopperoinen, L. & Liquete, C. (2018a). Knowledge needs for the operationalisation of the concept of ecosystem services. Ecosystem Services, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2017.10.012

Carmen, E., Watt, A. & Young, J. (2018b) Arguing for biodiversity in practice: a case study from the UK. Biodiversity and Conservation, 27, 1599-1617. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-016-1264-x

Dick, J., Turkelboom, F., Woods, H. & et al. (2018) Stakeholders’ perspectives on the operationalisation of the ecosystem service concept: results from 27 case studies. Ecosystem Services, Part C. 552-565. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2017.09.015

Howard, B., Braat, L. C., Bugter, R. J., Carmen, E., Hails, R. S., Watt, A. D. & Young, J. C. (2018) Taking stock of the spectrum of arguments for biodiversity. Biodiversity and Conservation, 27, 1561-1574. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-016-1082-1

Bouwma, I., Schleyer, C., Primmer, E., Winkler, K. J., Berry, P., Young, J., Carmen, E., Špulerová, J., Bezák, P., Preda, E. & Vadineanu, A. (2018) Adoption of the ecosystem services concept in EU policies. Ecosystem Services, Part B. 213-222. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2017.02.014

Dick, J., Verweij, P., Carmen, E., Rodela, R. & Andrews, C. (2017) Testing the ecosystem service cascade framework and QUICKScan software tool in the context of land use planning in Glenlivet Estate Scotland. International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Management, 13, 12-25. https://doi.org/10.1080/21513732.2016.1268648

Nesshöver, C., Vandewalle, M., Wittmer, H., Balian, E. V., Carmen, E., Geijzendorffer, I. R., Görg, C., Jongman, R., Livoreil, B., Santamaria, L. & Schindler, S. (2016) The Network of Knowledge approach: improving the science and society dialogue on biodiversity and ecosystem services in Europe. Biodiversity and Conservation, 25, 1215-1233. DOI 10.1007/s10531-016-1127-5

Carmen, E., Nesshöver, C., Saarikoski, H., Vandewalle, M., Watt, A., Wittmer, H. & Young, J. (2015) Creating a biodiversity science community: experiences from a European Network of Knowledge. Environmental Science & Policy, 54, 497-504. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2015.03.014


Research publications since appointment

Carmen, E. and Nyírő, F., (2023) MERLIN Report: 2nd Hydropower Sector Roundtable on Obsolete Barrier/ Hydropower Dam Removal as part of a Nature-based Solutions Approach, EU Horizon MERLIN project. Available at https://project-merlin.eu/files/merlin/downloads/sectoral_briefings/MERLIN_Hydropower_sector_2nd_Roundtable_report.pdf

Nyírő, F., Carmen, E., Ibrahim, A., Hernandez Herrero, E., Bérczi-Siket, A., Blackstock, K., (2023), Briefing for the Hydropower Sector (version 2), EU Horizon MERLIN project. Available at https://project-merlin.eu/files/merlin/downloads/mainstreaming/MERLIN_Sectoral_Briefing_Hydropower.pdf

Carmen, E. and Waylen, K., (2023). Considering Whisky – the rationale for focusing on the whisky sector to understand when and how natural capital concepts can unlock private-sector investment in nature-based solutions. Scottish Government RESAS project D5-3. Available at https://www.hutton.ac.uk/sites/default/files/files/JHI-D5-3_WP4_M4_1_WhiskyPlan.pdf

Carmen, E., Waylen, K.A., Marshall, K., Ellis, R., (2023). Appraising Key Stakeholders and Institutions Relevant to Catchment-based Nature-based Solutions (NbS) in Scotland. Scottish Government RESAS project D2-2.

Blackstock K., Baffert C., Bérczi-Siket A., Carmen E., England M., Gray R., Gruber T., Hernandez-Herrero E., Ibrahim A., Le Clech S., Matthews K., Nyírő F., Rouillard J., Schultz L., Vion Loisel A. and Waylen K.A, (2023), Briefing on policy opportunities for mainstreaming freshwater nature-based solutions. EU Horizon MERLIN project deliverable D4.3. Available at https://project-merlin.eu/files/merlin/downloads/deliverables/MERLIN_D4.3_Policy_NBS_Mainstreaming_Sep2023.pdf

Bérczi-Siket, A., Blackstock, K., Carmen, E., et al (2022). Mainstreaming aquatic restoration using Nature-based Solutions. Briefing on national / EU sector perceptions, workshops, and tailored briefings per sector. EU H2020 MERLIN project deliverable D4.1. Available at https://project-merlin.eu/files/merlin/downloads/deliverables/MERLIN_D4.1_Briefing_EUsector_perceptions_Oct2023_revised.pdf

Research publications prior to appointment

Carmen, E., (2022). Policy Synergies for Community Resilience, Climate Adaptation and Community Empowerment National Policy in Scotland. Scottish Government.

Searle, B., Carmen, E., (2020). The Nature of Communities Project Report, University of Dundee.

Carmen, E., Bedinger, M., (2020) Using narratives for social change. Scottish Universities Insight Institute/ University of Dundee/ Heriot Watt University.

Wolstenholme, R., Barrett, F., Baxter, H., Carmen, E., Currie, M., Fazey, I., Irving, D., Mabon, L., Revell, P. and Yates, G. (2018) Community Resilience and Climate Justice – Key Messages for Policy and Practice. Sniffer.

Carmen, E., Gunell, J., (2018) Collaborative Power for Societal Transformation in Rapidly Changing World: Conference series report for Facing the Future 2017. Centre for Environmental Change and Human Resilience, University of Dundee. Scotland.

Fazey, I; Carmen, E.; Rao-Williams, J.; Hodgson, A.; Fraser, J.; Cox, L.; Scott, D.; Tabor, P.; Robeson, D.; Searle, B.A.; Lyon, C.; Kenter, J.; Murray, B. (2017). Policy Summary. Community Resilience to Climate Change: Outcomes of the Scottish Borders Climate Resilient Communities Project. Centre for Environmental Change and Human Resilience, University of Dundee

Fazey, I; Carmen, E.; Rao-Williams, J.; Hodgson, A.; Fraser, J.; Cox, L.; Scott, D.; Tabor, P.; Robeson, D.; Searle, B.A.; Lyon, C.; Kenter, J.; Murray, B. (2017). Community Resilience to Climate Change: Outcomes of the Scottish Borders Climate Resilient Communities Project. Centre for Environmental Change and Human Resilience, University of Dundee

Carmen, E., Fazey, I., Rao-Williams, J., Hodgson, A., Fraser, J., Cox, L., Scott, D., Tabor, P., Robeson, D., Searle, B., Kenter, J., Murray, B., Lyon, C. Scottish Borders Climate Resilient Communities Project Part 1: Findings on community resilience to climate change and climate disadvantage (working paper).

Carmen, E., Fazey, I., Rao-Williams, J., Hodgson, A., Fraser, J., Cox, L., Scott, D., Tabor, P., Robeson, D., Searle, B., Kenter, J., Murray, B., Lyon, C. Scottish Borders Climate Resilient Communities Project Part 2: The process and its outcomes (working paper).

Hauck, J., Potschin, M., Saarela, S., Carmen, E., Dick, J., Martin-Lopez, B., Kelemen, E., Keune, H. (2015) Ecosystem services and Transdisciplinarity. EU FP7 OpenNESS Consortium.

Schleyer, C., Carmen, E. et al (2015) Policy analysis of key regulatory frameworks within Europe for the Operationalisation of the concept of ecosystem services and natural capital. EU FP7 OpenNESS Consortium.

Hauck, J, Carmen, E. et al. (2015) Stakeholder involvement in ecosystem service decision-making and research. EU FP7 OpenNESS Consortium.

Carmen, E., Watt, A., Young, J. (2015). Knowledge needs for the operationalisation of the concept of ecosystem services and natural capital. EU FP7 OpenNESS Consortium.

Young, J, Carmen, E., (2015) Policy Brief: Developing our capacity to build effective arguments. EU FP7 BESAFE Consortium.

Carmen, E., Young, Y. (2015) Policy Brief: Arguing for biodiversity in a Local Biodiversity Action Plan area, UK. EU FP7 BESAFE Consortium.

Herzele, A. Van, Coninx, I., Mortelmans, D., Young, J., Bela, G, Heink, U., Carmen, E., Blicharska, M., Hendriks, C. M. A., Bogers, M. M. B., Jokinen, P, Geamana, N., Bucur, M., Cosor, G., Maes, J., Müller, A., Fabok, V., Kopperoinen, L., Bugter, R. J .F., (2014). Final report synthesising the analysis of argumentation in multi-level governance interactions in case studies. EU FP7 BESAFE Consortium.

Carmen, E., Young, J., and Watt A.D. (2014). Linking conflict and global biodiversity conservation policies. In: Conflicts in Conservation: Navigating towards solutions, Redpath, S.M, Gutierrez, R.J, Wood, K., and Young, J. (Eds). Cambridge University Press. UK.

Carmen, E., Saarikoski, H., Watt, A., Young, J. (2013). Report on the evaluation of the prototype Network of Knowledge development and testing. EU FP7 KNEU consortium.


Presentations/ webinars for academic audiences since appointment

International Social Capital Association, 2023, A socio-cultural perspective for working with social relationships in community sustainability initiatives in practice: A focus on relationship qualities. Available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Zkbxy84Jbk.

Presentations/ webinars for academic audiences prior to appointment

KLI lab June 2020, Austria. The social dynamics in developing a community fridge in Scotland.

Transformations 2019, Santiago, Chile. Relationship qualities and community resilience – where is the transformative potential?

World Forum on Climate Justice 2019, Glasgow Caledionian University, Scotland. Social capital and Resilience: a metasynthesis.

Leverage Points: An international conference on sustainability research and transformation, 2019, Lüneburg, Germany. Social capital and Resilience: a metasynthesis.

Transformations Conference 2017, Dundee, Scotland. A story of an action research project for building resilience in the context of climate change.

Stockholm Resilience Conference 2017, Sweden. Lessons from a community resilience action research project.

3rd European Climate Change Adaptation Conference 2017, Glasgow, Scotland. Social dynamics in an action research for community resilience project.

ESCOM (Ecosystem Services Community) Scotland Conference 2015, Edinburgh, Scotland. The need for transdisciplinarity for ecosystem services.

Presentations/ webinars for non-scientific audiences since appointment

Free Flow Conference, 2024, Groningen, The Netherlands. Navigating change to mainstream barrier removal: Using a Nature-based Solutions (NbS) approach with the hydropower sector across Europe.

MERLIN Academy Learning Module 3 – sub module 3.1, 2024, (online, MERLIN Academy (thinkific.com)). Pillar A (part 1 & part 2) – Drafting a project plan & strategy.

Presentations/ webinars for non-scientific audiences prior to appointment

RE-AMP Network, US (https://www.reamp.org/). 2021. How social relationships, amongst other diverse factor shape community initiatives in the context of climate change and implications for practice.

RE-AMP Network, US (https://www.reamp.org/). 2019. Qualities of social relationships in community change initiatives and implications for practice.

5th Resilient Cities European Open Day 2018, Germany. Collaborating to build community resilience to climate change.

Tay and Forth Estuary Partnership Conference 2017, Scotland. The social dynamics of collaboration.

Scottish Climate Change Action Network Annual Gathering 2017, Scotland. Climate disadvantage and resilience.

Flooding and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Network 2016 Assembly, UK. Learning from an action-research project for building community resilience to climate change

Scotland Flood Disadvantage Study Training for Local Authorities, 2015, Scotland. Climate disadvantage and community resilience.

Adaptation Scotland Flood Risk Management Conference 2015, Scotland. Building community resilience in the context of climate change.

Scottish Resilient Communities Conference 2014, Scotland. Learning from the Scottish Borders Climate Resilient Communities Project.

Policy advisory group meeting (EU FP7 KNEU project), November 2012 & April 2013, Brussels. Initial findings from evaluation research on developing a European network of knowledge for biodiversity.


Scottish Borders Climate Resilient Communities Project, (funded by Joseph Rowntree Foundation) (2015-2017)

EU FP7: Operationalization of natural capital and ecosystem services (OpenNESS): Examining knowledge needs for turning the concept of ecosystem services into practice (2013-2015)

EU Service contract: Mechanisms for mapping ecosystem services: Examined meaning of EU environmental policy concepts (2014-2015)

EU FP7: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Arguments for our Future Environment (BESAFE): Case Study: Examining argument use and effectiveness across levels of governance in the UK (2013-2015)

EU FP7: Developing a Knowledge Network for European expertise on biodiversity and ecosystem services to inform policy making economic sectors (KNEU): Formative evaluation of the development and synthesis function of an EU network of Knowledge for biodiversity and ecosystem services (2012-2014).