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  Hydro Nation Scholars Programme 2024 - Nature-based solutions for water management: self-maintaining and future-proofed?

   Hydro Nation Scholars Programme

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  Dr L Peskett, Dr Claudia Aravena, Dr M Wilkinson  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Are you interested in understanding the potential for nature-based solutions to tackle some of our biggest water management challenges, as well as the sustainability of these approaches in the future? We are looking for an enthusiastic PhD researcher to join us! The project offers an exceptional opportunity to develop skills in natural science and economics, conduct fieldwork, and tackle fundamental questions whilst producing research that will be valuable to policy makers and practitioners.


Catchment based Nature-based solutions (NBS) such as tree planting, ponds and wetlands, or upland land management are increasingly being deployed in the water sector to improve water quality, reduce flood risk (also referred to as Natural Flood Management), and mitigate droughts. This increasing societal reliance on NBS requires certainty that these assets are effective now and in the future, and resilient to external shocks and stresses.

The ‘natural’ aspect of NBS is highly variable, and on a continuum from complete rewilding (i.e. leaving nature with minimal human interference) to engineered structures that are only semi-natural (e.g., offline ponds, flood embankment lowering). Natural or not, NBS functioning changes over time, and while sometimes assumed to be self-maintaining, maintenance is usually required for continued provision of the expected services. They are also subject to future risks, particularly around climate change (e.g., extreme weather events changing river channel morphology) and land use change (e.g., increased sedimentation rates in ponds/wetlands).

In this project you will investigate questions surrounding the maintenance, impacts, and future resilience of NBS in the water sector. You will conduct a multi-disciplinary analysis of the short and long-term operation of these assets including consideration of their potential market and non-market costs and benefits, and potential policy implications. Your work will contribute to the generation of the much-needed evidence on expected maintenance requirements and strategies for nature-based assets, accounting for future risks, and will ultimately support evolving industry evaluation approaches for these complex assets. 


The aim of the project is to study and evaluate the maintenance requirements of NBS in the water sector and the implications for future risk management.

During the project, you will address the following objectives:

  1. Review current evidence of maintenance requirements of different NBS interventions in the water sector and how maintenance is currently being factored in.
  2.  Evaluate the performance of selected catchment based NBS in the water sector, how performance has changed over time, how performance is/can be maintained, and the associated costs and benefits.
  3. Value the non-market externalities, costs and benefits associated with the development of selected NBS in the water sector, including studying social acceptability and system adoption by landowners/managers and barriers to implementation.
  4. Evaluate future risks associated with the maintenance requirements of rural NBS, including risks due to low maintenance scenarios, and those due to external impacts such as climate change.


You will use a range of inter-disciplinary methods from natural science and economics in the project, which are likely to include:

  • Surveying projects and stakeholders to understand NBS maintenance costs and strategies.
  • Developing and applying a methodology for evaluating and costing specific nature-based intervention maintenance, design of questionnaires and implementation of survey-based methodologies. Working with mature NBS sites, the student will survey the sites to gather empirical data about asset condition and how measures have changed over time.
  • Evaluating the economics of the selected NBS at selected sites (e.g. through contingent valuation) with analysis using stated-preference methods and econometric techniques.
  • Evaluating the implications of different maintenance scenarios on the performance of assets, and the potential impacts of climate and land use change on performance and associated risks (this could take an empirical or model-based approach depending on the specific NBS measures focused on and student interests/skillset). The economic implications of these scenarios for investors and those reliant on the assets, will also be evaluated. Recommendations for future-proofing such assets will be developed based on the findings from this work.

Prerequisites and training

A first-class honours degree in a relevant subject or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent) in Environmental Sciences (e.g. Hydrology, Soil Science, Geosciences, Environmental Sciences, Geography, Environmental Engineering), Environmental Economics or other allied degree requiring quantitative skills (please enquire if you are unsure). A driving licence would be desirable.

As this is an interdisciplinary project, we do not expect you to be an expert in all aspects, but to have some knowledge of the science and economics relevant to NBS and an interest in developing interdisciplinary skills. The collaboration of supervisors across two institutions and departments will give you access to relevant training, as well as researchers using state-of the art approaches from their respective disciplines. Strong policy and industry relevant interdisciplinary training will also be provided.

You are strongly advised to make an informal enquiry about the PhD to the primary supervisor well before the final submission deadline.

You must send a completed Hydro Nation Scholarship application form, Curriculum Vitae and covering letter to Dr Leo Peskett ([Email Address Removed]) by the final submission deadline of 10th January 2024.

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Economics (10) Engineering (12) Environmental Sciences (13) Geography (17)

Funding Notes

The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is an open competition for PhD Scholars to undertake approved projects, hosted within Scottish Universities and Research Institutes. This project will be hosted by Heriot-Watt University. Full funding is available from the Scottish Government (to host institutions via the Scottish Funding Council). The funding available will be in line with the UKRI doctoral stipend levels and indicative fees. Applicants should have a first-class honours degree in a relevant subject or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent). Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed on 7th or 8th February 2024
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