School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

Staff Profile

Dr Niki Rust

Research Associate


I'm an environmental social scientist with expertise in environmental geography, sustainable food systems and environmental conservation. My research is collaborative and stakeholder-informed to create real-world change for people and the planet. I am currently Principal Investigator on a project looking into how to manage the UK countryside more effectively so that it better provides benefits for people and nature.

I'm interested in the barriers and enablers that affect people deciding to be more or less sustainable, such as farmers to try more sustainable agricultural practices and for consumers to eat more sustainable food. I also research what makes natural resource users and managers decide to be more environmentally friendly. I work with industry (such as Quorn), local authorities (such as the Environment Agency) and the third sector (such as the Rivers Trusts) to help inform their strategies and co-create knowledge and impact. My research has fed into European Union policy work on sustainable soil management and is providing the evidence base for wildlife conservation NGOs to become more effective.

Having spent a decade working in wildlife conservation and sustainable agriculture at policy, practice and research levels, and now as an environmental expert and highly experienced media spokesperson, I am regularly interviewed on national and international TV, such as for the BBC, ITV, CNN and Sky News, as well as radio stations from around the world. I give keynote speeches at high-profile environmental events and have provided evidence at the House of Commons, US Embassy and the FAO. I frequently contribute to books, blogs, podcasts and other communication outlets. In my previous roles, I have represented my organisation at the United Nations, UK Government, European Commission, IUCN and Prince William's 'United for Wildlife' on topics related to environmental sustainability.

Please do get in touch if you need to speak to a nature conservation expert or you are interested in receiving training in science/research communications, stakeholder engagement work or policy impact.



  • PhD in social-ecological systems, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent, UK, 2012-2015
  • MSc in Conservation Biology, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent, UK, 2010-2011
  • BSc in Zoology at Cardiff University, UK, 2002-2005



2018 onwards: Research Associate, Newcastle University, UK

2019: Consultant, Luc Hoffmann Institute, UK

2016-2018: Technical Adviser in Wildlife, WWF, UK

2016: Postdoctoral Researcher, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, USA

2015: Sustainability Science Manager, Compassion in World Farming, UK

2015: Systematic reviewer, International Institute for Environment and Development, UK

2014-present: Freelance journalist and science communicator

2011-2012: Ecologist, Cheetah Conservation Fund, Namibia

2009-2010: Conservation and Communications Associate, BirdLife Malta, Malta

Service to profession:

  • Expert Adviser, Population Matters, 2019-present
  • Strategic communications manager, IUCN's Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group, 2019
  • Handling Editor at Conservation Biology2018-2020
  • Handling Editor at Journal of Population and Sustainability, 2018-present 
  • Member of Society for Conservation Biology' Social Science Working Group, 2014-present
  • Member of IUCN Species Survival Commission and the Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group, 2016-present 
  • Mentor of WWF staff, 2016-2018
  • Member of Society for Conservation Biology's Diets, Health and Conservation group, 2015-2018
  • Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime member, 2016-2018
  • Wildlife & Countryside Link ‘Wildlife Crime’ member, 2016-2018
  • Grant reviewer, British Ecological Society, 2016-2017
  • Pathways Human Dimensions of Wildlife Conference Adviser, 2014-2015
  • Board member, Waterberg Conservancy community-based conservation management, 2011 –2012
  • Board member, Namibian Protected Landscape Initiative (NAMPLACE), 2011 –2012
  • Board member, Large Carnivore Management Association of Namibia, 2011 – 2012


At Newcastle University, I am the Principal Investigator on a participatory project where I lead research into how to redesign the UK countryside so that it is more environmentally friendly. Managing a team of researchers, I work with farming, food and environmental stakeholders in industry, NGOs and policy to provide evidence to inform their work. I am in charge of budget and project management.

I am also working on a number of global and European environmental projects including two large EU Horizon 2020 grants (Soilcare and SolAce) and a Defra Sustainable Intensification scoping study, which aim to help improve the sustainability of food production and consumption.

Working across multiple European countries and with a wide variety of partners from different sectors, I use qualitative and mixed-method participatory research approaches to understand the barriers and enablers for adopting more sustainable agricultural practices and food consumption. Using a multi-actor approach, I’m involved in stakeholder engagement, communication and dissemination strategies to ensure the results of our research are locally applicable and acceptable.

My research interests and experience include:
  • sustainable agriculture and diets, 
  • socio-ecological systems, 
  • political ecology,
  • nature conservation,
  • systems thinking,
  • human-wildlife conflict, 
  • legal and illegal wildlife trade,
  • carnivore conservation, 
  • community-based conservation, 
  • sustainable use of natural resources,
  • participatory methods,
  • science communication. 

I make sure my research is collaborative so that the end result is useful, applicable and is designed for full impact. Do get in touch if you'd like to work with me.


I am a course lecturer on the following Newcastle University modules:

  • ACE8101 Food Security
  • ACE2078 Qualitative Methods
  • ACE3017 Countryside Management
  • BIO8072 Coupled Human and Natural Systems 
  • BIO3039 Biodiversity Science and Management
  • BMS3016 Science Communications (Faculty of Medical Sciences)

Along with lecturing and marking, I supervise undergraduate and postgraduate students on topics related to sustainable agrifood systems, participatory research, social-ecological systems and wildlife conservation.

I also provide ad hoc training via tailor-made workshops to staff, students and conservation professionals in a wide variety of subjects, including the following:

  • social science methods in conservation
  • carnivore conservation
  • human-wildlife conflict
  • Twitter for academics
  • science communication

Do get in touch if you'd like to discuss how I can assist with training you or your students on the above topics.