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Upscaling understanding of Natural Flood Management impacts at the catchment scale. 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 NFM at the catchment scale has yet to be delivered, despite the fact that it is arguably at this scale (often considered to be an appropriate scale for flood management), that the potential for NFM is most important. This PhD will address the catchment scale knowledge gap that surrounds NFM. Using bespoke modelling and data analysis approaches, the research will test the efficacy of a wide range of NFM interventions to deliver genuine, catchment-scale flood risk reduction.

Project Description

The research will explore four main areas of investigation. Firstly, the PhD student will collate and synthesise all existing understanding globally of the impacts of NFM at catchment-scales. This work will form a literature review and position paper which sets out the state-of-the-art understanding (see Ellis et al., for an example from a recent PhD project) and puts forward a set of questions that will be answered, with a suite of appropriate tools (both data-driven and numerical modelling approaches). Secondly, the candidate will develop and evaluate modelling tools by applying them to existing data that we have already collected at a range of NFM sites in Devon, to provide proof-of-concept of their approach to predict NFM impacts at the catchment scale. Thirdly, the research will then apply the modelling tools across a number of NFM interventions and scenarios, in direct collaboration with project partners on the wider DRIP program. Fourthly, the PhD will conclude by drawing together the research and proposing a modelling framework that is broadly applicable to NFM impacts across the UK.

The research will be results-focussed, delivering impact into a range of organisations who are implementing NFM across the county and providing the opportunity for the candidate to write both peer-reviewed papers and reports that influence the ways in which NFM interventions are rolled out in the future. In this way, the co-created research project will ensure real-world impact and contribute meaningfully to this important field of understanding.

Finally, as part of a program of research and implementation of NFM, the PhD project will also 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, drone-based habitat mapping), geospatial mapping or GIS and hydrological modelling 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 numerical modelling (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

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]

For further information and to submit an application please visit - https://www.exeter.ac.uk/study/funding/award/?id=4643

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


(1) Puttock et al., (2020) Beaver dams attenuate flow: A multi-site study https://doi.org/10.1002/hyp.14017
(2) 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
(3) 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
(4) 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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