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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  People  /  Academic Staff  /  Eszter Kovacs

Eszter Krasznai Kovács


Title: Lecturer in Environment, Politics and Society

Research specialism: (geo)politics, making and effects of environmental law and policy, particularly for conservation, water and farming within Europe and South Asia; rural development and the future of countrysides








I am an ecologist and lawyer by training, having grown into a conservation enthusiast and activist after growing up in Sydney, Australia. My initial forays into research consisted of trying to ease captive wombat boredom; and investigating the effects of fox poo on tiny marsupials. A little unsatisfied by these, I worked all-too-briefly in public interest environmental law for the indispensable Environmental Defender’s Office in Sydney, before taking up a Gates Scholarship to complete a PhD in Geography at the University of Cambridge in the UK. My PhD returned me to my Hungarian roots and looked at the making and effects of conservation policy on private farmland in eastern Europe.

After my PhD, I have worked as a postdoctoral researcher for four years on a project funded by the NERC/UKRI’s Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation research programme (please hyperlink: that looked at water access, availability and change across six small towns in India and Nepal (another link: During my time on this project, and particularly after the Gorkha earthquake in 2015, I developed an active (and ongoing) interest in disaster management and recovery. I also received an Environment and Sustainability grant from the Royal Geographical Society UK (2016) and a small grant from the British Academy (2018) to continue research on the effects of EU rural development and aid money on Hungarian farming and sustainability initiatives. From 2018, I hold a Leverhulme Early Career Research award that examines how new legal regimes for the management of particular natural resource sectors (water, game, forests, soil) intersect with lives and livelihoods in rural Hungary. I completed a law degree through the Open University in 2020. I joined UCL in 2021.

I am broadly interested in the changing geographies and geopolitics of environmental management, the making of rural development and associated legal regimes, and their effects on livelihoods immediately dependent on resources. I am interested in the processes of transformation and transition in the post-socialist eastern European region as these have affected property relations and natural resource use and access, farming, conservation and thus the sorts of lives possible in rural areas. The realisation of ‘development’ and the changing mores and powers between stakeholders and financiers of these processes, and the knowledge and ‘evidence’ used to underpin and justify interventions are central to my research.

  • The future of rural areas and rural development: My current Leverhulme Trust-funded research examines the changing place of rural areas and resources within Hungary. I bring together attention to formal legal and policy changes to governance regimes from local to national levels with grounded ethnographic insights from the farming, hunting and conservation sectors. I focus on how new relations of power and ownership map onto historical governance and resource networks, to document the effects and consequences of these changes for the environment and local people.
  • The politics of biodiversity conservation, particularly on private land: a long-term research interest evaluates the provenance, introduction and (ecological, economic, social) effects of a range of environmental policies intended to achieve ‘conservation’ or ‘sustainability’, and the ways in which these terms are defined and experienced. This involves reconsideration to the tools of conservation, how they are designed, and what evidence underpins their introduction and persistence (and what, who are excluded). I have focused especially on agri-environment schemes and High Nature Value areas from within the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, and have documented some of the unintended effects of subsidy payments to farmers. My focus through this work is to better holistically embed economic incentives and other conservation approaches within the lifeworlds of targeted/intended recipients.
  • Urbanisation’s resource needs and effects on rural areas: I am interested in hydro-social connectivities between small towns and rural areas, and the ways in which these are re-negotiated as urbanisation’s pace and needs increase. Building on postdoctoral research that took place in the Himalayan foothills of India and Nepal (, my ongoing research looks at opportunities for the incorporation of local knowledge and expertise of water systems and water needs and access rules into development planning.
  • The politics of post-disaster recovery and distribution: The roles of informal economies, distribution networks and local institutions are an often-overlooked part of disaster recovery, particularly for the reestablishment of water and food supplies, and production(farming) capacity.

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