Developing industry-led tools to improve water and flood defence infrastructure through natural capital

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Environmental Research DTP


River flooding has been a notable issue in the UK in recent times and it is projected to increase in frequency and severity because of climate changes. The UK Climate Change Committee's Adaptations Sub Committee has highlighted flood risk as one of four key areas for urgent intervention. The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) in 2012 has estimated that the annual cost to the nation for flooding is likely to increase from the baseline of £1.2 billion to between £1.6 and £6.8 billion by the 2050s with between 1.3 and 3.6 million people affected by the 2050s from the baseline of about 900.000 people.
This proposed research will intervene in this challenging field aiming at developing a new 'Catchment Management Tool' in partnership with Thames Water, to face the future challenges in protecting the land; other important partners such as Evenlode Catchment Partnership in Oxfordshire, Atkins Consultancy and the Sylva Foundation will be involved to draw on the wide range of expertise needed to build effective management tool within a catchment.
Natural Flood Management (NFM) is a method that comprises all the techniques that aim to emphasize the restoration of innate hydrological and morphological processes, features and characteristics through the natural capital approach, providing important regulating services in relation to both runoff rates and water quality and is highlighted as an important climate change adaption strategy.
These techniques include the restoration, enhancement and alteration of natural features and characteristics, but exclude traditional defence engineering that works against or disrupts these natural processes. This project will involve also the implementation of Rural Sustainable Drainage Systems (RSuDS) to improve the drainage with sustainable systems that can reduce the risk of flooding and pollution from pesticides and fertilisers, giving the opportunity for water companies to implement water quality without using further and more expensive infrastructures to treat already polluted waters, such addressing the problem of diffuse pollution from agriculture.
The aims of this project are multiple: i) assessment of the possible reduction in flood risk achievable by NFM measures in the Upper Thames basin through a modelling approach, ii) development of a web-based tool to assess the areas at major risk of flooding and water pollution where NFM and RSuDS measures could be implemented, iii) creation of a marketplace where landowners could measure the ecosystem services provided by their land and where the beneficiaries of the services will be able to contract with landowners for the continued and enhanced provision of these.
The distributed hydrological modelling in the land surface model JULES will be used to predict the impacts of different NFM scenarios on peak flow reduction. Three NFM scenarios will be evaluated: 15% increase in forest cover, micro-ponds construction, both the measures applied together. These scenarios are based on the concept of retaining water into the landscape, but as on the one hand afforestation is generally proposed as a measure for the reduction of run-off generation, on the other hand, micro-ponds have generally been suggested as NFM measures that focus on the introduction of small retention elements in the landscape.
I think the Long-term Ecology Lab at the University of Oxford is the right place to develop this project: the ongoing NaturEtrade project aims at developing an innovative solution for the loss of ecologically rich-land in Europe and it will also try to connect the gap between academic research and policy on ecosystem service provision. This experience in dealing with different stakeholders together with the expertise in dealing with datasets, processing imagery and developing tools will help achieving successful results.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/R011885/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2022
1942319 Studentship NE/R011885/1 19/09/2017 30/09/2021 Francesco Pelizza