Investigating the use of natural capital concepts for participatory approaches to integrated water management

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: The Centre for Environmental Policy


Aquatic ecosystems provide a multitude of ecosystem services upon which humans depend (The UK National Ecosystem Assessment, 2011; UNEP, 2009). Furthermore, freshwater habitats are among the most biodiverse in the world, supporting over 6% of described species, despite only covering 0.8% of the Earth's surface (Dudgeon et al., 2006). In spite of the importance of water resources, freshwater systems are directly threatened by human activities (Vörösmarty et al., 2010), making them one of the most vulnerable habitats on Earth (Dudgeon et al., 2006; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005).

Due to the interconnections between land, water, biota, vegetation and human activities that affect aquatic ecosystems, an integrated approach that takes these into consideration is required (Global Water Partnership, 2000; UNESCO, 2009). Central to this is the need for concerned individuals or their representatives to take a participatory role in the decisions that affect them (Rault and Jeffrey, 2008; UNESCO-WWAP, 2006). This leads to a more comprehensive and holistic picture of resource use (Reed, 2008; Collins, 2014), enabling management decisions that are more likely to be successful (Pahl-Wostl and Hare, 2004). However, the success of participation in water governance has been mixed (Benson et al., 2014; Ruiz-Villaverd and Garcia-Rubio, 2017) with numerous challenges for the collaborative management identified (Margerum and Robinson, 2015; Fritsch, 2017).

Articulating Natural Capital (NC), the stocks of natural assets from which humans derive a wide range of benefits (Natural Capital Forum, 2018), can help people to understand the role of nature in sustaining human well-being and the linkages between the natural and socio-economic systems, leading to more sustainable management of natural resources (Guerry et al., 2015). Therefore, the work of this PhD project will investigate the use of NC concepts for participatory approaches to integrated water management using catchment management in England as a case study.

The PhD project will contribute to the knowledge, tools, and practices necessary to integrate NC into decision-making, which has been identified as essential in ensuring that the NC concept is a success and can help to address the major challenges of the 21st century (Guerry et al., 2015). Through evaluating the use of the NC concept, the project will provide outputs to inform the delivery of Catchment Based Approach in England and Defra's the 25 Year Environment Plan. Furthermore, the work will provide evidence of the value of NC concepts, providing a platform for further development of the approach at an international level.

Specifically, the PhD project will:
1. Review NC concepts and methodologies and identify how these relate to participatory approaches to integrated catchment management
2. Develop a systems model of the stocks, flows and benefits people receive throughout catchments and test in two pilot catchments
3. Identify how differences in aspects of environmental quality alter the NC generated within catchments
4. Test the model with different scenarios e.g. land use change/climate change to identify trade-offs and changes to NC
5. Work with stakeholders to trial the use of NC concepts in catchment planning and assess its potential in facilitating participatory approaches
6. Make recommendations on how the NC concept can be used in catchment planning at a national and international level


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/S007415/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2027
2286500 Studentship NE/S007415/1 01/11/2019 30/04/2023 Caitlin Hinson