Dr Maria Paula Escobar-Tello

BA(Los Andes, Bogota), Ma (Distinction) (Kings College London), PhD(Kings College London)

  • BS40 5DU

Personal profile

Research interests

My research explores tensions and intersections between livestock farming and the environment. I am particularly interested in the challenges of reconciling the impetus for conservation and the duty to protect livelihoods. Through these themes I pursue an interest in cultural politics, agricultural and environmental governance and human-animal relationships. Conceptually, my research relates to regulation studies, more-than-human geographies, political ecology and the politics of materiality. Most of my research takes place in Colombia and Argentina but I am interested in expanding further. 

I currently explore these themes in four interdisciplinary and international projects related to reforestation, water management, ecosystem conservation and anti-microbial resistance AMR. 

In BioSmart https://www.biosmartamazonia.org/, where I am the PI, we work in the Amazonian region of Colombia to understand dairy farmers' participation in conservation projects to transition from extensive to silvo-pastoral farming systems (SPS). Lack of engagement with agri-environmental and conservation schemes is usually explained in terms of farmers' apathy. By contrast, Phase I of BioSmart revealed issues in the design, implementation and politics of project initatives that we are now exploring in Phase II using a novel methodology called institutional ethnography. We work together with colleagues from the University of Reading and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) to study the interactions between silvo-pastoral farming and plant and invertebrate biodiversity; and with Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) to explore farmers' perceptions of risk. Our partner in Colombia is the Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical CIAT. Our funders are BBSRC, ESRC and the Newton Fund. 

Por el Páramo https://porelparamo.org/en/home/ looks at the implementation of conservation legislation  in the páramos of Boyacá (Colombia). The peace agreement signed in 2016 has made it possible for environmental concerns to become a priority and the páramos of Boyacá have received special attention. These high altitude wetlands are an important source of water and in order to protect them the government has established limits to the economic activities of their inhabitants. But for these communities, páramos are more than a natural resource of economic value: they are a territory. Our work explores these tensions together with a team of hidrologists, land cover experts and industrial designers from King's College London and the University of Loughborough respectively and pays special attention to the role of livestock farming in creating a reconciled páramo landscape with the support of Professor Mark Esiler from Bristol Vet School.  Our funders are NERC and AHRC.

Paraguas https://paraguas.ceh.ac.uk/ is also funded by NERC and AHRC and as Por el Páramo, is also part of the ColombiaBIO Programme. Working in the same páramo region in Colombia, I lead the social science team of the project and collaborate with story-tellers from the University of Loughborough and economists from the University of Edinburgh. In the Human Geography component we explore farmers' water management and ecosystem conservation practices. 

Building on an initial project about usage, prescription and control of veterinary medicines in dairy farms in Colombia https://www.kcl.ac.uk/research/antimicrobial-resistance-in-colombias-livestock-revolution, I now explore similar issues in Argentina, where intensive livestock farming systems are in sharp contrast with Colombia's small and subsistence farms. 

Throughout these projects I have continued to explore how social science is (mis)understood in policy-making environments, a question I also examine in the context of interdisciplinary research and institutions.  

As a Geographer lecturing on Farm Animal Science in the Veterinary School Maria Paula seeks to build bridges between the School and the wider university, contribute to the School's interdisciplinary research themes on Population Health and Global Food Security. 


My teaching invites BVS and MSc Global Wildlife Health and Conservation students to think critically about the factors that determine health and disease and what it may mean to collaborate across disciplines and sectors in a OneHealth framework. 

I also teach three sessions on qualitative research methods to BVS students, where we explore the contrasts between social and physical sciences, the practicalities of using research tools such as interviews, ethnography and text analysis and the challenges of qualitative data analysis and write-up.


I am a cultural and environmental geographer with an interdisciplinary background in Political Science and History at the Universidad de los Andes in her native Bogotá (Colombia's capital city). When I moved to the UK I completed an MA on Environment, Politics and Globalisation (Distinction) and a PhD in Geography, both from King's College London.

Before joining Bristol's Veterinary School in September 2017, I worked in subsequent post-doctoral fellowships related to livestock farming governance and regulation (funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Defra) and to flood risk management (EU funded KULTURisk and NERC funded SINATRA), developing a strong interdisciplinary profile to my research.




Structured keywords and research groupings

  • Cabot Institute Water Research
  • Cabot Institute Food Security Research


  • environmental conflicts
  • livestock farming
  • environmental governance
  • Latin America
  • Colombia


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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