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Characterising the impact of large wood in river restoration, NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2023 Entry, PhD in Geography.

   Department of Geography

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  Dr Diego Panici, Dr Elizabeth FOLLETT  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

About the Partnership

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science.

Project Background

Freshwater ecosystems are declining due to climate change and physical pressures on species worldwide, whereby extensive damage to river systems across the globe has driven to a huge loss of habitat and biodiversity. This has prompted, for example, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the Water Framework Directive and the Habitat Directive to compel urgent actions to protect and restore riverine environments, enhance habitat and catchment management. Large wood (LW) is an essential tool for river restoration, actively promoting the re-establishment of natural processes and biodiversity of river systems. LW material is increasingly used in rivers for a variety of purposes such as Natural Flood Management, Floodplain Reconnection, and habitat enhancement.

Despite the importance of river restoration and global growing interest (and investment), there is still very limited understanding of the hydraulic, hydrological, geomorphological, and social conditions that influence where and how LW-based river restoration solutions can be applied. Moreover, it is unclear i) the benefit provided by different LW in different rivers and any changes over time, both at local and catchment scale, ii) what modelling tools can predict the impact of LW restoration measures, iii) how LW should be designed and used in river restoration projects.

Project Aims and Methods

The overall aim of this project is to understand the conditions that maximise beneficial impacts of river restorations using LW-based solutions. The student will analyse the flow and sediment response to river restoration schemes through a combination of field and remote analysis, computational modelling, and flume experiments, for a broad set of different LW solutions, and river types and flows, to address key research questions and industry needs, such as: what LW size and quantity should be utilised; what is the optimum LW configuration for river type; what are suitable LW solutions that can provide fish passage. This will advance the understanding of local- and catchment-scale changes on social, hydraulic, hydrological, and geomorphological conditions.

The results from this research will lead to a best-practice guidance for use of LW in river restoration to improve the hydromorphology and biodiversity of rivers, that can be disseminated widely through the river restoration community and will build into existing guidance. This project will support a flexible approach to match the interest of the successful candidate, and the student will be encouraged to design data analysis, modelling, and flume experiments at both the University of Exeter and the Cardiff University HydroLab to best suit their research direction. 

Candidate requirements

We are looking for a person with background in Physical Geography, Civil and/or Environmental Engineering and cognate areas. Knowledge or experience in geomorphology, landscape response, hydraulics, and numerical methods are desirable but not essential. The ideal candidate will be strongly motivated to address research questions about key environmental issues, and will be keen on working in a thriving trans-disciplinary research community of geographers, engineers, bioscientists and ecologists. This studentship is available on a full-time or part-time basis.  

Project partners 

The PhD student will have the exciting opportunity to work within two of the best UK universities and top 150 in the world. The student will also work with collaborative partners The River Restoration Centre and Environment Agency (who are industry leaders in the field), and will receive guidance on river restoration principles, techniques, and modelling, as well as access to data and dissemination of the research outputs with stakeholders and consultants, enabling the student to build a broad network of industrial partners.


The PhD student will enjoy conducting research in top institutes belonging to the prestigious Russell Group and will be part of the new trans-disciplinary research group at the Centre for Resilience in Environment, Water and Waste (CREWW) at the University of Exeter. The student will have access to state-of-the-art facilities (for example, flume laboratories at both institutes) and will receive internal and external training as appropriate, including fluid dynamics numerical simulations. The student will have the opportunity (and will be encouraged) to present their research to a high-profile international conference, e.g., EGU or IAHR.

For project-specific enquiries, please contact the lead supervisor Dr Diego Panici - [Email Address Removed] or the co-supervisor Dr Elizabeth Follett - [Email Address Removed]

For further information and to submit an application please visit -

Funding Notes

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises: A stipend for 3.5 years (currently £17,668 p.a. for 2022-23) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates; Payment of university tuition fees; A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses; A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
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