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Optimising multiple Natural Flood Management solutions. CASE++ Fully-funded PhD with University of Exeter, Devon County Council, EA and DRIP partners.

   College of Life and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr R Brazier, Dr Alan Puttock, Dr Diego Panici  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


Flood-risks are increasing globally, under the twin pressures of climate and land-use change. Whilst conventional solutions to mitigate flooding are proven, they are also costly and often do not deliver environmental resilience in a holistic sense or in the long-term. The development of Natural Flood Management (NFM) approaches is one response to this dilemma and, over the last decade, it has led to a wide range of innovative approaches to water resource management. However, we suggest that a robust understanding of the effectiveness of different types of NFM interventions is poor. Furthermore, an understanding of which NFM types are optimal, and of course understanding of where they should be deployed, is lacking for most catchments. 

This PhD will therefore address the knowledge gap that surrounds decision-making around NFM solutions, quantifying which approaches are best, where and characterising the differences that each approach might deliver in terms of of flood attenuation and water storage. Working across a wide range of field sites, and deploying a Multi-site, Before, After, Control, Impact experimental design, this PhD will deliver enhanced empirical understanding of Natural Flood Management approaches.

Project Description

The research will be designed, in the first instance, to draw together all available data and understanding from existing NFM monitoring projects worldwide. This review of understanding will both contextualise what we know, allowing the PhD candidate to build a conceptual model of how different NFM interventions work within a standard literature review framework, but will also yield data that can begin to be used to analyse differences between NFM solutions. Of course, strong datasets describing NFM behaviour are as yet rare, so the next stage of the PhD will be to design a monitoring program that collects the empirical data that are needed to characterise the effectiveness of NFM solutions such as: (1) woody debris dams, (2) engineered log jams, (3) floodplain storage ponds, (4) channel meandering and (5) beaver dams (for example).

Whilst some of these NFM interventions have already been monitored, and therefore data will be available for some Before and After analysis, more sites will need to be instrumented. The next stage will therefore be to instrument multiple sites to collect standardised data which can allow comparison between NFM approaches. Following on from this, data analysis will begin to establish which solutions function well where and these data will also be shared with the partner-PhD’s on this program of research, to evaluate models or multiple benefits of NFM solutions, for example. Finally, the PhD will synthesise understanding of optimal NFM solutions and share this information widely across all partner organisations to build an evidence-base for decision-making around NFM deployment.

In common with all PhD’s in this program, the PhD project will benefit from lateral support within the team of 5 PhD students, 22 project partners and two very strong research-led teams of academics at UoE and UoP.    

Candidate Requirements:

Understanding of environmental science, physical geography and particularly hydrology, alongside strong statistical and numeracy skills. Experience of field work (for example flow monitoring/gauging, drone-based habitat mapping), time series data analysis, and geospatial mapping/modelling or GIS are all desirable, though n.b. essential training will be provided.

Project Partners:

This project involves an exciting interdisciplinary collaboration between experienced researchers at the University of Exeter, the University of Plymouth, Devon County Council, the EA and multiple other project partners. The student will benefit from the supervisors’ world-leading expertise and networks across hydrology and natural flood management, landscape restoration and environmental modelling. The student will be based at the University of Exeter in the Centre for Resilience in Environment, Water and Waste, where they will have access to brand new, state-of-the-art labs, workshops, computing facilities and a vibrant, interdisciplinary community of researchers. The student can also access facilities at the University of Plymouth and join a cohort of 5 PhD researchers working within a Doctoral Training Centre which focusses on the understanding of Natural Flood Management.


The student will receive training in field work, lab work, evidence synthesis, geospatial mapping and data analysis (as required), and will undertake field work in the UK. In addition, they will have access to a wide range of courses provided by the University of Exeter Doctoral College to support their personal and professional development.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree. Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the project http://www.exeter.ac.uk/postgraduate/apply/english/.

How to apply

Apply now

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents. Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.


Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project.

Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained. This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.

If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current proficiency in English, please see the entry requirements for details.

Two references

The application deadline is midnight Saturday 31st December 2022

Interviews will take place in the week commencing 9th January 2022

Ideally, candidates should be prepared to start this PhD from 1st February 2023.

For information relating to the research project please contact the Lead Supervisor, Prof Richard Brazier ([Email Address Removed])

For information about the application process please contact the Admissions team via [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

The studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £17,668 per annum for 2022-23 plus RTG of £6,141.46. Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend.
International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD


(5) Puttock et al., (2020) Beaver dams attenuate flow: A multi-site study https://doi.org/10.1002/hyp.14017
(6) Puttock et al., (2017) Eurasian beaver activity increases water storage, attenuates flow and mitigates diffuse pollution from intensively-managed grasslands https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.10.122
(7) Ellis et al., (2021) Mainstreaming natural flood management: A proposed research framework derived from a critical evaluation of current knowledge https://doi.org/10.1177/0309133321997299
(8) Lockwood et al., (2022) Assessing the efficacy of offline water storage ponds for natural flood management. https://doi.org/10.1002/hyp.14618
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