Project Highlights



Flooding, and management, cost the UK £2.2billion per year. Under current economic pressures, flood policy is shifting from entirely flood defences to broader management strategies. This includes “Natural Flood Management” which aims to restore the natural functioning of catchments to store water and slow the flow. Examples of NFM, shown in Figure 1, include tree planting, leaky dams and river restoration, along with agricultural land management. These work with hydrological processes, including increasing infiltration of rainfall into the soil, storing water on the floodplain and increasing the flow resistance to flow within the channel to attenuate the flood peak (taking the top of the peak).

However, despite gaining popularity with policy makers and flood action groups, a lack of evidence on its effectiveness and advice about how to go about implementing such an innovative approach are limiting its success.

There are two gaps in current knowledge relating to the effectiveness of NFM. First, at the intervention scale, we do not understand how much hydrological processes are modified by the NFM feature. Second, at the larger sub-catchment and sub-catchment scale, we have limited knowledge of how the effect of the interventions combine together and propagate through the river system. The importance of how sub-catchments interact in terms of tributary synchronicity is essential to understand in terms of larger scale scheme design (Pattison et al., 2014).

This project aims to develop guidance on how NFM schemes can be designed to optimise and monitor their effectiveness at different spatial scales.


  1. Using recently installed river flow gauges, monitor the impact of Environment Agency installed NFM interventions in the River Soar catchment.
  2. Carry out laboratory experiments and field trials to determine how interventions, e.g. leaky dams, can be designed to increase their effectiveness.
  3. Develop models to design NFM schemes at the catchment scale to optimise for performance.
  4. How to work with policy makers and land owners to broaden the implementation of NFM to large catchments.



Figure 1: Impacts (a) and Management of flood risk by NFM (b) tree planting, (c) leaky dams, (d) river restoration.


This project will utilise a mixed methods approach, combining field monitoring, hydrological modelling and stakeholder engagement. You will work closely with the Environment Agency and the Soar Catchment Partnership on their ongoing DEFRA Soar NFM scheme.

A dense network of river flow gauges, recently been installed in the Soar catchment by Loughborough University, will be used to monitor the effect of a range of NFM measures installed through the DEFRA project, including online storage and leaky dams. This will be supplemented with separate field trials, including fluorescein dye tracing to estimate travel times. Laboratory tests, such as rainfall simulation or flume experiments will allow controlled experiments to optimise individual feature design.

Finally, hydrological modelling using CRUM3 (Lane et al., 2009) to test the catchment scale impact of different “What if” scenarios on flood risk. Furthermore, optimisation techniques will be utilised to determine the best locations to put different NFM interventions.


Training and Skills

Specific training on numerical hydrological modelling and optimisation techniques will be provided by the supervisors and through dedicated courses arranged by HR Wallingford and the Environment Agency. You will also attend a 5 day Annual Catchment Science Summer School, led by internationally leading hydrologists. Further training opportunities will be accessed through the British Hydrological Society. The student will get the opportunity to present their research at a range of national and international conferences, to build communication and networking skills. You will be a member of the Water Group (Water@Lboro), which run a series of seminars and training workshops.


Year 1: Undertake a comprehensive literature review and work closely with the Environment Agency to ensure good baseline data is collected before interventions are installed. Develop detailed project objectives, particularly around which NFM interventions will be focussed upon, and design experiments to test their effectiveness in controlled tests.

Year 2: Continue the field monitoring of NFM interventions, and undertake complementary experiments to assess their effectiveness. Develop models for larger scale assessment of effectiveness and techniques through which approach could be optimised.

Year 3: Finalise data collection and analysis. Thesis writing. Work closely with Environment Agency to ensure key messages are translated into practice.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

This project is supported by the Environment Agency and the DEFRA funded Soar NFM project, who will be the CASE partner. You will be an integral part of the technical subcommittee for the larger project. Opportunities to be based at the East Midlands Trentside EA office in Nottingham will allow close working with the EA. You will have access to Environment Agency data and information and disseminate findings directly to them at project steering group meetings.

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 Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering, Loughborough University. Please quote CENTA18-LU13 when completing your online application form: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/study/apply/research/.