A National Scale Model of Green Infrastructure for Water Resources

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Environmental Change Institute SoGE


Can green infrastructure form part of a water resources plan? How can we evaluate where the most impact from new wetlands and forests can be made? How robust are these 'natural water retention methods' (NWRM) to climate change? How much will they cost in comparison to conventional methods?

These questions are currently being answered in a local context, with case studies and pilot projects well established and their outputs understood. At the national scale there has been far less work done. No model has taken the outputs of individual NWRM and formed a generalised approach which can be used to identify the costs and benefits of a range of options for new NWRM across Great Britain and mapped solutions in financial and carbon terms.

This work builds on existing expertise on water resource systems modelling planning within the Oxford research group and uses the existing knowledge of project partners.

The main steps in our project are:
1. Explore the knowledge of our project partners on NWRM. We will host discussions on the sites where NWRM has been used and record the accounts of how these schemes have been developed through interviewing expert project partners. We will ask about:
-The cost of building, the time taken to develop the sites, and the operational costs.
-The impacts that they noticed or monitored on local rivers
We will compare the answers we are given with information from reports from elsewhere in the world.

2. Using this information we will make a model of the effects of NWRM on water. This will involve looking at what information on each NWRM can tell us about what the impact on water resources is going to be.

3. Having made a model of individual NWRM, we will apply this to our existing model of water resources for mainland Great Britain. This determines future available supplies and demands for each water resource zone, the management units for water resources.

4. We will investigate how climate change and population will affect the answers from Objective 3, and look at other uncertain factors such as how energy and industry demand for water might change and what happens if people use less water in future.

5. We will work with our partners throughout the project to develop practical and useful reports on our work.

Planned Impact

Evidence for NWRM

Evidence will be provided of the value of Natural Water Retention Measures (NWRM) at the national scale. Defra will be supported in their appraisal of the viability of the role of NWRM in future water resource infrastructure planning. This work fits well within the specified Defra requirement to develop 'systematic approaches to innovation in relation to green infrastructure including improving our strategic understanding of the opportunities and constraints' (Defra, Natural England and the JNCC offer to Collaborate on the Green Infrastructure Call), as pertains to drought and water resource planning. As pressure increases on UK water resources and conflict arises between ecosystems and requirement for new water infrastructure, an understanding of the strategic value of catchment based strategies for water resources becomes urgent. This project will contribute significantly to the ongoing discussion around NWRM and allow a range of stakeholders to shape the critical modelling work on which the resulting evidence will rely. As a user-driven innovation project, integration with the expectations and requirements of the project partners is essential. This maximises the potential for impact in the future work of the end users and the wider stakeholder community.

Contribution to UK and Partner Expertise in NWRM

Our collaboration with consultants Amec Foster Wheeler will allow them to further develop their expertise in NWRM including identification of NWRM opportunities, modelling of site specific NWRM, first-hand understanding of our modelling work and model outcomes, immediate access to our evidence base and engagement with the NWRM community. New opportunities to contribute to NWRM may emerge as a result of the evidence created. In establishing the UK as an innovation leader in NWRM, UK consultancies will be well placed to access emerging opportunities for NWRM development in the EU and further afield.

Mobilisation of existing UK research on NWRM and water resources

This work will allow research partners and stakeholders with expertise in site-specific NWRM to work with water resource specialists at the host organisation to integrate their existing work with an existing water resource model. This will facilitate communication between the NWRM and water resource communities and allow challenges to future implementation of NWRM to be identified. Through establishing our model as a focus for discussion of the future potential of NWRM we will build partnerships which will result in future research and innovation work, with long term impact for NWRM and water planning.

The wider community

Beyond project partners this work will benefit stakeholders in water planning and NWRM, including increased options for water resource planning for water companies, potential for reduced bills and increased security of supply for water company customers, multiple benefits to those living near sites of future NWRM including amenity value, health benefits and local tourism revenue and benefits to ecosystems through the expansion of green spaces.


10 25 50
Description • A tool for the transformation of river flow sequences in response to land use change based on quantile-quantile association

• A journal paper on the use of regression models to determine the association between land use change and hydrological flows, setting out the rationale for the approach used in later modelling and testing parameter assumptions*

• An integrated Land Use/Water Resource/Infrastructure planning model, allowing scenarios of land use change, population change and climate change to be integrated (based on modification of the Future Flows Hydrology data set)

• A journal paper on the resulting model and model outcomes**

• Hydrological data sets of the influence of 5 scenarios of land use change on future hydrology of 36 strategic UK catchments under 11 scenarios of future climate change

• Mapped outputs of the influence of land use change on hydrology under 5 scenarios of land use change

• Workshop on innovation priorities and community mapping with project partners, academics and students, 31/03/2016

• Workshop/interview with National Forest Company on land use change implementation
Exploitation Route The findings of this project will be useful for land use planning and land management. They will also be useful for design of the build environment.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description The project 'A National Scale Model of Green Infrastructure for Water Resources' set out to integrate current knowledge on Green Infrastructure at the catchment scale with an existing model of future water resource infrastructure needs for mainland Great Britain. This timely application of existing research to a topical problem has been a focus for discussion between industry partners, allowed the researchers involved to develop new tools for the assessment of land use change on water systems. It has delivered thought-provoking results which stress the heterogeneity of the UK water resource challenge. As a short project, there is some limitation to the confidence we can extent to the model outcomes, in part due to the strategic nature of the assessment being conducted. The results suggest that catchment management has a moderate, regionally specific role to play in augmenting river flows. However, where it is effective, in areas expecting low to medium growth in water demand, this report suggests that catchment management can be an effective component of a water infrastructure portfolio. This is especially true when the many co-benefits of natural ecosystems are considered, perhaps the most relevant of which are the benefits to water quality and flood protection which have emerged as high priorities for future research and innovation.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description Adaptation Meeting (Oxford) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A presentation on infrastructure systems and green alternatives, centred on the work undertaken in this project. This talk was part of an event entitled 'Adaptation to Climate Change', involving three such presentations and a discussion. 25-35 attendees from local environmental groups, university and other researchers and the general public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description EGU Conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A presentation on 'Evaluation of strategies for nature-based solutions to drought: a decision support model at the national scale', as part of the session 'Catchment Science and Management: Nature-Based Solutions for rural and urban environments' at the European Geosciences Union conference 2017 (Vienna). The strategic and applied nature of the research led to extended discussion and subsequent discussion with audience members and other presenters.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://meetingorganizer.copernicus.org/EGU2016/EGU2016-13870.pdf
Description Green Infrastructure Expert Elicitation Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Experts on green infrastructure and associated fields met to identify key current issues and practicalities of the implementation of nature-based solutions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016