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Exposure potential of rural versus urban inland waters for equitably improving population health and wellbeing

Project Description

Inland waters (in both natural and urban environments) span a spectrum of waterbody types from gentle flowing headwaters, canals and lakes through to engineered urban water features and low lying estuaries. These diverse ‘blue spaces’ represent an interconnected resource for nature-based health interventions, with UK freshwaters offering a range of potential public health benefits. Ecologically healthy and biodiverse inland waters promote tourism, support family activities and provide social cohesion in local communities. However, relative to their marine counterparts, rural and urban inland waters in the UK are often overlooked in terms of their wider socio-economic significance and the value of social and mental health benefits of access to inland waters are often hidden, or unaccounted for, relative to the physical benefits. This reinforces the critical need to assess the role of inland blue space (i.e. water bodies embedded in the landscape) in promoting population health and wellbeing, encouraging active recreation and generally increasing levels of social activity. The term ‘blue-health’ recognises psychological and stress recovery benefits that water can provide, and not just the physical benefits of recreation in water environments; however, while the concept of waterscapes as therapeutic landscapes is gaining increased momentum and is attracting interdisciplinary attention, large areas of the UK’s inland aquatic environment represent an under-utilised natural capital asset for the promotion and improvement of population health. This studentship will investigate the ways in which different types of inland blue space can influence perceived health and wellbeing and examine the policies and processes that hinder or promote use of, and access to, inland blue space.

Research objectives: This studentship will use a combined field and modelling approach to further our understanding of exposure potential of rural versus urban inland waters for equitably improving population health and wellbeing. The student will address the following research objectives:

1. Determine how perceptions of health and wellbeing (dis)benefits associated with contrasting inland water typologies vary across a rural-urban continuum.
2. Use a range of GIS modelling approaches to evaluate inland blue space characteristics of rural versus urban populated areas and their potential impact on health and health inequalities.
3. Exploit Big Data via social media tags (e.g. via Flickr, Twitter) to gain novel insight into blue space usage and inland water-health linkages.

Evidence suggests that the presence of a variety of different types of water body are preferred in landscapes but how each waterbody typology interacts with blue-health pathways and affects health promotion is more uncertain. What are the mechanisms through which inland blue-health benefits arise? Does the perceived “dosage” of exposure for health benefits vary between different categories of inland blue space (rivers, lakes, urban ponds, canals, wetlands)? The student will deploy a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods to enable data capture of blue-health benefits associated with inland water environments across both rural and urban communities.

The studentship will capitalise on geospatial modelling approaches to examine barriers to accessing inland blue spaces and to explore whether inland blue spaces represent a source of health inequality if different types of waterbodies are deemed an important population health resource and are not distributed equitably (in terms of quality) across communities. Future landscape/climate change will likely influence rural and urban waters in different ways, both in terms of blue space quantity and quality. The studentship will use climate change projections to derive scenarios of future blue space usage and access and consider how different “catchment futures” might relate to health inequalities. Visibility modelling of blue space in rural versus urban environments will also be used as part of the geospatial approach to data capture.

Finally, the student will use novel approaches to data mining associated with social media platforms (posts and tags) to evaluate (spatially and temporally) how people use spaces near inland water bodies. Such an approach can help to deliver an innovative evidence base to underpin solutions for promoting population level health and wellbeing.

Funding Notes

Serious applicants are strongly advised to make an informal enquiry about the PhD well before the final submission deadline of 10th January and strongly encouraged to send their CV and covering letter to David Oliver ().
Instructions on how to make a formal application and information on eligibility requirements can be found here: View Website. Note that you must make an application both to the IAPETUS2 website and to Stirling University (View Website) before 5pm on the closing date for your application to be valid


Full IAPETUS studentships are open to UK nationals and EU candidates who will have been resident in the UK for at least 3 years at the time of the PhD commencing. The project is competition funded through an IAPETUS2 PhD Studentship Award which includes 3.5 years student stipend (at national UKRI standard rate), fees and research training support grant.

Further information on the project, skills and training opportunities can be found here:

Candidates should ideally have a First Class Honours degree and Masters degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2:1 Honours degree may be considered provided they have a Distinction at Masters level.

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