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Project Highlights:

  • In partnership with the Welland Rivers Trust as CASE partner, this studentship will investigate trade-offs and synergies between 5 key ecosystem services in the Welland catchment.
  • Different land use and climate change scenarios and how they are likely to impact on the optimal basket of ecosystem services will be studied.
  • Methods involve satellite Earth observation and the ecosystem services assessment tools of InVEST.

River catchments provide a host of ecosystem services that are important to human wellbeing (Bagstad et al. 2013). Understanding how land use change affects the resilience of ecosystem services of catchment systems under changing climatic conditions is extremely important for decision making. Focusing on the Welland catchment, this studentship aims to develop a method of ecosystem services assessment that can evaluate the trade-offs and synergies between different ecosystem services associated with land use and climate change scenarios by using Earth Observation (EO) data, scenario modelling and the InVEST ecosystem services assessment tools.

A growing number of tools allow a range of ecosystem services to be assessed on regional scales in order to support policy makers (Crossman et al. 2013). InVEST is one such tool; capable of analysing and valuing the provision of ecosystem services under various land cover scenarios (Swetnam et al. 2011). InVEST uses deterministic models based on land cover maps from EO, digital elevation models and other environmental parameters to provide spatially explicit outputs on the provision of ecosystem services (Bagstad et al. 2013).

The provision of the five ecosystem services will be analysed for the future land cover scenarios as well as a business-as-usual scenario, under a high and a low greenhouse gas emission scenario from IPCC AR5.

The project has 3 stages: First, a high-resolution land cover map of the catchment in its current state will be produced using new Sentinel-2 data at unprecedented 10m spatial resolution, allowing detailed river bank mapping for the first time. The map will also be resampled to coarser spatial resolutions of 30m and 90m to assess how spatial scale affects uncertainty in ecosystem service assessment. Second, the provision of 5 key ecosystem services will be analysed for the catchment in its current condition.

Research questions:

  • How can water retention in different land cover types and terrains be valued as a flood protection ecosystem service?
  • How strong are the trade-offs and synergies between the 5 ecosystem services under different land use and climate scenarios?
  • What impact do global climate trajectories have on catchment-scale land use strategies to maximise ecosystem services?
Extent of the Welland Catchment in the East of England.


Using InVEST, this project will assess 5 ecosystem services: carbon storage and sequestration, nutrient and sediment supply to rivers, habitat quality and biodiversity, agricultural output and flood water retention. The catchment's major public and private stakeholders, such as Anglian Water and the NFU, will be engaged through the Welland Valley Partnership to develop multiple scenarios of future land use that prioritise different aspects of catchment management for 2050 for the Welland catchment that will be co-developed with the stakeholder partnership. To model the distribution of future land cover under the scenarios and create future land cover maps a set of qualitative rules will be created that can be translated to quantitative rules that are applied to the original land cover map (Swetnam et al. 2011).

The methods that will be developed will be transferable to other catchments in the UK and inform conservation strategies in the catchment.

Training and Skills

The training experience of the student benefits from being part of the NERC CENTA PhD student cohort, the NCEO PhD community as well as the Geography PhD cohort at the University of Leicester, whilst having access to expertise in CEH and the Welland Rivers Trust. This ensures that the training goes far beyond what can normally be provided without this collaboration.

Project-specific skills training will include using the InVEST software, image orthorectification, geocoding, mosaicking, Sentinel 2 processing, GIS, geospatial analysis methods, database management, and accuracy assessment.


Project plan and secondments to Welland Rivers Trust (two periods of 3 months):

Year 1: Bulk of PhD training, visit to CEH, fieldwork, data collection, probation.

Year 2: Three-month secondment to Welland Rivers Trust for the stakeholder scenario development; followed by land cover mapping and accuracy assessment.

Year 3: Three-month secondment to Welland Rivers Trust for knowledge exchange & InVEST tool development; followed by InVEST scenario modelling. Writing-up and PhD viva.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

The primary supervisor, Prof. Heiko Balzter is expert in Earth observation, Dr. Laurence Jones in ecosystem services, and Dr. Mick Whelan in hydrological modelling. Prof. David Harper is an emeritus professor at the University of Leicester with expertise in ecohydrology and Chair of the Welland Rivers Trust. All are experienced PhD supervisors.

The Welland Rivers Trust has committed to be a CASE partner to explore better uses of the new generation of Sentinel satellites (which provide free and open access to imagery at unprecedented spatial resolution of 10 m) for assessing baskets of ecosystem services in the Welland catchment.

Further Details

Prof. Heiko Balzter, University of Leicester & National Centre for Earth Observation, Centre for Landscape and Climate Research, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH, hb91@le.ac.uk, Tel. 01162523820.