Changes in urbanisation and its effects on water quantity and quality from local to regional scale

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Geography - SoGE


Over the past 50 years changes in UK land-use have been considerable and substantial change is likely to continue. The UK population is projected to increase by 16% to 2035 which will bring about change to the size and structure of urban areas and increased pressure on land management, especially in the south-east. This project, by calling upon a range of tested modelling approaches and associated expertise will advance understanding of the fine-scale impacts of urbanisation on water resources and pollution, which are currently poorly understood. The focus will be on water security in the Thames river basin where projections of future population and climate indicate serious water stress. Detailed case studies at a local scale (including Bracknell and Swindon), where the impacts of past land-use changes on river hydrological and ecological regimes are likely to be large, will be undertaken and a novel integrated modelling approach developed and tested. The approach will then be rationalised and up-scaled for testing across the entire Thames, and, in conjunction with projections of urban development and land management change, used to quantify future effects. These findings will be set in the context of effects indicated to be a direct consequence of climate drivers.

Planned Impact

Outputs from the research are expected to bring benefits to stakeholders across multiple sectors as follows.

(i) Water managers: The results from the research will provide water managers, primarily the Environment Agency, Thames Water and the Rivers Trust, with a holistic assessment of the contribution of point source pollution from expanding population centres, and their relative importance compared to other pollution sources and climate change impacts. This information is important for defining strategies for reducing pollution and achieving good ecological status.

(ii) Local authorities: The growth of population centres is determined by planning decisions made at a local level. The output from the project will enable local governments and spatial planners to better understand the links between local growth strategies and the resulting impacts on the receiving waters, both locally and on the scale of the Thames basin. The research will also provide local authorities with information on the effectiveness of local water management strategies such as Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems.

(iii) Business community: This project is aimed at local planning so direct engagement will be with the local authorities. Most businesses will be interested indirectly and will get information through local authority channels. However we will use a number of existing knowledge exchange channels to engage with the wider business community.

(iv) Non-governmental organisations: The Thames River is used by a plethora of people and organisations for recreational (e.g. boating and fishing) and wildlife conservation. Examples include the Inland Water Association, Thames Anglers' Conservancy, and the Thames River Restoration Trust. All of these organisations have an interest in a reduction in pollution in the Thames River and the output of the research will assist these NGOs to use their limited resources where they are most likely to have a positive impact and as part of their educational material.

To best engage with a wide range of stakeholders we will put our findings in the context of provision of ecosystem services and how the sustainability of this provision may be affected by future change, both in urbanisation and as a result of climate. We will communicate project results to a topic group outlining the premise behind ecosystems services (that they represent the benefits in terms of monetary value that people receive from nature). The topic group will meet three times during the project and include representatives from organisations in all four sectors outlined above.

A proposed secondment of a CEH research scientist to work in the Environment Agency for a 20 day period, will not only allow policy makers to get involved in the interpretation of results but also to ensure our research outcomes directly inform their initiatives. Building on our existing collaborative links, research scientists will organise meetings in Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology to raise awareness of the research and gain feedback.

We have been successful in setting up a private sector partnership with the Earthwatch organisation who will contribute co-funding from a worldwide HSBC initiative. Manpower will also be provided by HSBC, in the form of "citizen scientists" who will be trained to participate in scientific data collection and thereby directly contribute to our project. Therefore, this will potentially be very influential, and with the help of Earthwatch, create very effective media for disseminating project findings in a wider context to a diverse range of beneficiaries. Sustaining the research and its influence beyond the lifetime of the project is important and we will probably seek to do this through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with a business partner.


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Dadson SJ (2017) A restatement of the natural science evidence concerning catchment-based 'natural' flood management in the UK. in Proceedings. Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

Description National Infrastructure Commission
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to a national consultation/review
Impact Evidence used in National Infrastructure Commission report on natural capital
Description MaRIUS: Managing the Risks, Impacts and Uncertainties of droughts and water Scarcity (Co-I)
Amount £2,085,371 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/L010364/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2014 
End 08/2017
Description Met Office 
Organisation Meteorological Office UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaborative work to implement river routing scheme in Met Office Unified Model
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative work to implement river routing scheme in Met Office Unified Model
Impact This work is ongoing and will result in the capability to predict river flows in the Met Office Unified Model
Start Year 2012
Description Oxford Water Network 
Organisation University of Cape Town
Country South Africa 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have participated in this initiative and it has resulted in two successful research proposals, one to EPSRC and another to NERC.
Start Year 2012
Description Coverage in the Times and ITV News 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Coverage of research in Times, ITV News
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Interview on BBC R4 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview with BBC Radio 4 Farming Today
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Public lecture on NFM and flooding in the UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation on flood risk management to public audience at Christ Church, Oxford
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016