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Enhancing river restoration science to ensure multiple stakeholder benefits

   NERC Doctoral Training Centre Studentships with CENTA

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  Dr S Dixon, Dr K Khamis  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Project Highlights:

·      You will have the opportunity to design and conduct field monitoring of river and riparian ecosystem responses to a large scale £1m restoration and rewilding project

·      You will work closely with project partner Warwickshire Wildlife Trust including a placement opportunity to develop your research and communication skills in an applied environment.

·      Research outputs with real-world application that can inform policy, with opportunities to communicate these to academic and non-academic audiences.


Virtually every river in the UK has a legacy of significant modification by human activities with major implications for hydrology, geomorphology and ecosystem function. Recently there has been increasing interest in attempting to restore landscapes and ecosystems using techniques such as river restoration and rewilding. However, there is still significant debate regarding best practise in the face of changing land-use and climate. The lack of opportunity to practice and gather evidence of landscape scale restoration projects across whole river catchments remains a major challenge. Yet we need to understand how specific restoration and rewilding activities influence ecosystem services at a landscape scale, to guide river management strategies under current and future scenarios of environmental change. To do this requires well-planned restoration coupled with appropriate monitoring that can identify causal relationships which are still largely missing from restoration science. This project offers the opportunity to not only gather data on a diverse range of rewilding and restoration activities, but to work closely with the project partner to help shape the project design and subsequent monitoring approach and communicate findings to a diverse range of stakeholders. 

You will join a vibrant interdisciplinary research group and conduct field-based research on the River Blythe currently undergoing restoration and rewilding (Figure 1). Working closely with project partners you will design and undertake field experiments alongside planned restoration works, combined with environmental survey, and historical data analysis from the River Blythe and other key restoration case studies. Specifically, the PhD will test how catchment scale land-use change influences the reach and site scale riparian corridor restoration works typical of conventional restoration projects. The main objectives will be to: (1) Develop an understanding of the range of demands and services required of the study river by stakeholders, the potential synergies and conflicts between them, and how they shape river restoration goals (2) Assess the response of river processes to restoration works and how effective these are at enhancing the ecosystem services required by stakeholders; and, (3) Disentangle the effects of restoration works on the riparian corridor from land use changes also occurring within the wider catchment to understand where these interact. The results of the research will provide a basis to inform future restoration and management strategies.


This project will determine the effect of restoration techniques on geomorphology, hydrology, water quality and ecosystem community structure and functioning. Field studies will be conducted on restoration interventions that span a range of spatial scales; from the feature scale (e.g. in-stream wood flow deflectors), to reach scale (e.g. channel remeandering), up to catchment scale land cover change through rewilding. The student will utilise in-situ instrumentation to collect high-frequency data on changing hydrology and water quality, coupled with discrete field campaigns to record information on vegetation, biota, geomorphology and water chemistry. Within the broad project objectives the student will have flexibility to focus on specific areas informed by their developing understanding of the wider project, stakeholder priorities and their own research interests. This could extend to using experimental laboratory facilities to conduct controlled experiments, (i.e. ECOLAB freshwater mesocosm facility at the University of Birmingham) in conjunction with analysis of long-term data collected by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust.


Training and skills:

Students will be awarded CENTA2 Training Credits (CTCs) for participation in CENTA2-provided and ‘free choice’ external training. One CTC equates to 1⁄2 day session and students must accrue 100 CTCs across the three years of their PhD.

The student will develop into an independent researcher with a range of technical experimental skills and data science techniques which bridge disciplines, alongside experience of communicating and translating academic research to a range of audiences. The project equips the student with a diverse range of skills and experience which can be applied to future industry or academic careers. You will be trained in a range of relevant field data collection techniques including but not limited to: identification and taxonomy of freshwater invertebrates and macrophytes, use of hydrotelemetry sensors, use of hand-held and laboratory-based instrumentation for measuring water chemistry, geomorphological surveying, ecological surveying and GIS data analysis.

Possible timeline:

Year 1: Review literature, analyse historical data, plan and undertake fieldwork to identify baseline conditions in the Blythe. Plan future fieldwork, location of high-frequency monitoring stations and in-situ experiments. Opportunity for placement #1 with project partners.

Year 2: Undertake detailed data collection. Begin laboratory work and data analysis. Establish experiments to exploring impact on geomorphology and ecosystem function, either at field sites or experimental facilities. Opportunity for placement #2 with project partners. Presentation of initial findings at a national academic conference, such as River Restoration Centre conference.

Year 3: Complete field monitoring, experiments, all laboratory analysis and data analysis. Thesis write-up with view to publish findings in international peer-reviewed journals and international academic conference

Project partners: The project will benefit from a collaboration with our partners Warwickshire Wildlife Trust (WWT). You will have access to extensive datasets collected by both the EA and citizen science groups. It is anticipated the student will undertake a placement with the CASE partners. Throughout the project the student will liaise with WWT and work to communicate findings to a range of stakeholders through them.

Applications should include:

• CENTA application form, downloadable from CENTA application

• CV with the names of at least two referees (preferably three and who can comment on your academic abilities)

• The application should please completed via: Please select Apply Now in the PhD Geography and Environmental Science (CENTA) section. Please quote CENTA23_[B26] when completing the application form. For further information please visit

Funding Notes

Additional information for international applicants
· All international applicants must ensure they can fulfil the University of Birmingham’s international student entry requirements, which includes English language requirements.
· Please be aware that CENTA funding will only cover University fees at the level of support for Home-fee eligible students. The University is only able to waive the difference on the international fee level for a maximum of two successful international applicants.

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