Project Highlights:

  • Contribute to the very timely and important debate on the role Natural Flood Management has to play at the catchment scale.
  • Opportunity to work with industry and policy makers relevant to flood management in the UK to inform environmental management.
  • Develop a wide range of transferable skills in data collection and numerical modelling.

Natural Flood Management (NFM), or working with natural processes through a catchment based approach, is increasingly viewed as a viable option for mitigating downstream flood risks. However, there are still huge uncertainties associated with the evidence for NFM reducing river flows at the catchment scale.

A significant component of NFM is determining where in the catchment changes will have the desired effect downstream. The spatial and temporal dependence of NFM measures (Pattison and Lane, 2012) means that the same land use in two parts of the catchment will have different catchment scale impacts, along with the same location having different effects in different storm events.

Agriculture is a dominant part of the UK landscape, composing 70% of the UK area. The period of agricultural intensification (post-1945), including increased stock densities and heavier machinery, has coincided with an increase in flood frequency and severity. Another significant change has been an increase in field size and the loss of field boundaries e.g.  hedgerows and stonewalls. It is hypothesised that these have had a significant effect on the flows of water through the landscape (Fig. 1). Previous work has shown that hedgerows modify the hydrological cycle in terms of soil saturation and throughflow, and evapotranspiration and interception (Coates and Pattison, 2016).

The aim of this PhD is to contribute to this evidence base through developing our process based understanding of how field boundaries change hydrological processes, localised runoff pathways and catchment scale connectivity. This will be achieved through a combination of field monitoring at the local scale, and numerical modelling to upscale these impacts to the catchment scale.

The specific objectives of the research are likely to include:

  1. Determining the field scale impacts of rural infrastructure e.g. hedgerows, stonewalls, ditches through monitoring of the hydrological cycle stores and processes.
  2. Represent these sub-field/ sub-grid features (<1m scale) within a catchment scale hydrological model.
  3. Optimise the locations of these features in the landscape for downstream flood risk reduction.
Fig. 1 The mosaic of the rural infrastructure within the agricultural landscape


A combination of field monitoring, data analysis and hydrological modelling will be employed.

Firstly, fieldwork through monitoring and experimentation will quantify soil and vegetation characteristics, along with impacts on river flow for different types of rural infrastructure. Instrumentation include soil moisture probes, rain gauges, while experimentation includes infiltration tests and soil sample collection for further laboratory characterisation.

Secondly, hydrological modelling using CRUM3 (Lane et al., 2009) to test the catchment scale impact of different “What if” scenarios on flood risk. These scenarios will be discussed with local stakeholders. Furthermore, optimisation techniques will be utilised to determine the best locations to put different rural infrastructure.

Training and Skills

CENTA students are required to complete 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10 day placement. In the first year, students will be trained as a single cohort on environmental science, research methods and core skills. Throughout the PhD, training will progress from core skills sets to master classes specific to CENTA research themes. 

Individual support will be given by the team of supervisors with frequent meetings to discuss ideas, plans and progress. Furthermore, project specific training will be provided on software (such as Matlab, hydrological and hydraulic models). Presenting work at national and international conferences will build confidence and communication skills throughout the PhD.


Year 1: Conduct a comprehensive literature review, identify research gaps and specific project aims and objectives. There will be general and subject specific training.  You will gain familiarity with the software that will be sued throughout the project. Field monitoring and experiments will be designed and preliminary data collected.

Year 2: Field data collection will continue. The hydrological model would be set up and scenario testing started.

Year 3: Data analysis of fieldwork results and thesis writing. Dissemination at international conferences.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

This project will work with the Soar Catchment Partnership, which includes organisations such as the Environment Agency, Severn Trent, Natural England, Trent Rivers Trust.

Further Details

For informal discussion about this project, please contact Dr Ian Pattison, i.pattison@lboro.ac.uk

http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/civil-building/staff/pattisonian/ @GoWithTheF1ow

For enquiries about the application process, please contact Berkeley Young b.k.d.young@lboro.ac.uk, School of Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University.

Please quote CENTA when completing the application form: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/study/apply/research/.