Diversity in Upland Rivers for Ecosystem Service Sustainability - DURESS

Lead Research Organisation: British Trust for Ornithology
Department Name: British Trust for Ornithology (Norfolk)


With the UK's water valued at £200 billion p.a., Britain's 389,000 km of river ecosystems are arguably our most important. In addition to providing water, they supply other major ecosystem services such as the regulation of flooding and water quality; support to adjacent ecosystems by supplying energy and nutrients; and large cultural value for charismatic organisms, recreation, and education. However, the ways in which organisms and ecosystem functions maintain these services in rivers are extremely poorly understood. This is despite large ongoing effects on river organisms from changing catchment land use, and increasingly also from climate change. Cost implications are large and result, for example, from impacts on recreational fisheries, water treatment costs, and high value river biodiversity. By contrast, opportunities to use management positively to increase the ecosystem service value of rivers by enhancing beneficial in-river organisms have barely been considered.

In this project, we will focus on four examples of river ecosystem services chosen to be explicitly biodiversity-mediated: the regulation of water quality; the regulation of decomposition; fisheries and recreational fishing; and river birds as culturally valued biodiversity. Each is at risk from climate/land use change, illustrating their sensitivity to disturbance thresholds over different time scales. These services vary in attributable market values, and all require an integrated physical, biogeochemical, ecological and socio-economic science perspective that none of the project partners could deliver alone.

Using river microbes, invertebrates, fish and river birds at levels of organisation from genes to food webs, we will test the overarching hypothesis that: "Biodiversity is central to the sustainable delivery of upland river ecosystem services under changing land-use and climate". Specifically, we will ask: 1. What is the range of services delivered by upland rivers, and which are biologically mediated? 2. What are the links between biodiversity (from genes to food webs) and service delivery? 3. How does river biodiversity affect the rate or resilience of ecosystem service delivery through time? 4. How do changes in catchment land use/ management and climate affect river biota? 5. How should river biodiversity be managed to sustain ecosystem services?

At spatial scales ranging from small experimental catchments to the whole region, and at temporal scales from sub-annual to over three decades, the work will be carried out in upland Wales as a well-defined geographical area of the UK that is particularly rich in the spatially extensive and long-term data required for the project.

Planned Impact

DURESS- Impact summary

The research findings of the project will have a direct impact on academic researchers, the water industry, conservationists, land managers, policy makers and regulators, and the general public. Impact will be maximised by the participation in the project of representatives of each of these beneficiaries.

Academic beneficiaries: Detailed information on novel methods and approaches to quantify the key aspects of biodiversity that underpin delivery of ecosystem services, and to identify key thresholds and/or resilience in service delivery will be important for community ecologists, system ecologists, hydrologists, and social-economic scientists. Key harmonised and updated environmental databases on rivers as well as information for climate change adaptation and land use management will bring further benefit, in particular to aid development of valuation methods for ecosystems.

The water industry: In deepening our understanding of the relationship between landuse/management and climate changes and river ecosystem processes, this project will help the water industry implement a whole catchment approach to water quality management. In particular it will help to identify options to reduce and manage impacts on water quality, notably in areas that add large costs to water treatment such as elevated nitrate and Dissolved Organic Carbon content, color, and waterborne pathogens that are not controlled using standard water disinfection such as Cryptosporidium.

Land managers: Management of land to minimize impacts on rivers and their ecosystems is a central aim of River Basin Management Plans to deliver compliance with the Water Framework Directive. Agri-environment schemes are a key delivery mechanism where managers need better information on the resilience of river ecosystems and the sensitivity of land use to biodiversity and ecosystem health. This is particularly in the context of meeting the challenge of climate change and the possible ways that land use changes may occur to mitigate climate change and to adapt to climate change.

Conservation managers: The project will provide better information on how protecting and enhancing biodiversity may increase the resilience to deliver ecosystem services, notably in the face of land and climate changes. This will enable conservation efforts that currently revolve around flora and fauna to have a stronger justification in terms of delivering human benefits. The ability to use valuation methods to assess and decide on management options will add greatly to the rigour of these processes and help to justify implementation.

Policy makers and regulators: The project will help this group to develop measures which deliver on the objective of achieving good ecological status of rivers. Valuation methods will help to decide on how management schemes should be designed to optimize delivery of ecosystem services, and to design ways to achieve resilience to the challenges of environmental change.

General public: Most people do not have a clear idea of the way that conservation measures are designed and implemented. By linking biodiversity to ecosystem services and their values, the public will have a better understanding of what conservation policies are trying to achieve. As well as being crucial to ecosystem function the project will show the considerable amenity value of river systems.


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Title DURESS Photo Exhibition 
Description Exhibition of photographs inspired by DURESS and highlighting the value of each ecosystem service 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Exhibition has been installed in a number of venues in Wales and hence reached a wide public audience 
Description Work focused on four freshwater ecosystem services ongoing. Key findings to date include: (i) evidence that upland broadleaf tree planting supports fish population and resilience of rivers to climate change, (ii) food webs are key element, (iii) biofilm on surfaces supports production and regulate water quality, (iv) water quality is very dynamic during storm events with implications to biota, and (v) catchment land use has a significant effect on river resilience
Exploitation Route Scientific publications, presentations at conferences and to key stakeholders, articles in conservation magazines
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Environment,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://nerc-duress.org/news
Description Underway: current and future academic outputs have been and will continue to be disseminated on partner and organisational websites and through various media (journals, e-newsletters, twitter) as well as research events and conferences to which stakeholders and the interested public are invited
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services

Title Model predictions of riparian bird abundance based on BTO datasets 
Description Spatial models using comprehensive national datasets to predict patterns of riparian bird presence and abundance in Wales and Great Britain 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Analyses underway, using approach designed to handle a suite of biodiversity datasets 
Title Riverine Bird Surveys 2013 - derived population estimates 
Description The results of riverine bird surveys undertaken in 2013 were analysed in 2014 using standard protocols to estimate the numbers of breeding pairs of key riverine species (Dipper and Grey Wagtail) occupying the sample sites, estimates of relative abundance for all riparian bird species, and presence/absence for all bird species 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact None yet 
Description BTO contributes to study on the value of biodiversity to ecosystem services 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Supporters
Results and Impact Article on DURESS project intended to raise awareness of value of volunteer monitoring and subsequent research to contributors to long-term datasets
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description DURESS ecosystem services project event on lessons learned 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentations were made by work group leaders, resulting in much discussion and initial plans for potential further work
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Report on project (Thetford) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Report on project work led to discussion of possible synergies with concurrent work

None yet
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Update on project at Wales Ornithological Society annual conference, Nov 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Poster presentation at conference, accessible to all particpants. Some questions about the project were answered by BTO colleagues.

Handouts of poster later taken to Bangor University for posting in areas used by staff and students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014