Now recruiting for another fully-funded PhD! “Geochemical constraints on the hydrological restoration of groundwater-dependent wetlands in lowland catchments”

Healthy, functioning natural wetlands are critically important, yet the world is rapidly losing these habitats due to anthropogenic pressures. Rates of loss have historically been particularly large in lowland Europe. Consequently, there have been substantial efforts to restore wetlands, including through the restoration of more natural hydrological regimes. However, in many cases, the quality of inflows has also changed over time, and rewetting may lead to increased nutrient inputs, availability and/or mobility.

Located in Hampshire, Greywell Fen (also called Greywell Moors or Odiham Marsh) is a nationally important alkaline fen, which has been negatively affected by a nearby groundwater abstraction plant now operated by South East Water (SEW), and by tree encroachment. As part of its commitment to sustainability, SEW will soon cease abstraction to improve groundwater conditions in the fen.

SEW and the University of Reading are co-funding a PhD, starting in September 2019, to assess the possible impacts of rewetting wetlands with nitrate-rich groundwater on nutrient availability and exports to watercourses, and to propose possible mitigation options if required, using Greywell Fen as a case study.

The PhD student will:

  • identify sources and sinks of biologically-available nitrogen and phosphorus within the fen and the hydro-chemical processes that influence these using 4D spatio-temporal mapping of these elements and of selected environmental tracers sampled from boreholes in the chalk, peat dipwells, peat pores and surface water;
  • quantify the ecosystem services provided by the fen in terms of nitrate and phosphate depollution;
  • using a mesocosm experiment, understand changes in nutrient depletion rates and in the concentrations of base cations, nutrients and sulphide that can be expected under different rewetting and nutrient input regimes;
  • propose restoration and mitigation scenarios for the fen.

The student will receive training in analytical biogeochemistry and instrumentation (e.g. ICP-MS/OES, UV-VIS spectroscopy and Continuous Flow Analysis), fieldwork, critical analysis of primary research material, scientific writing for publication, etc. There will be an opportunity to undertake placement(s) and additional training at SEW’s headquarters in Snodland (Kent) and/or laboratory in Farnborough (Hampshire), allowing the student to develop an in-depth understanding of the water industry.

The student will have the opportunity to collaborate with another PhD student focussing on the hydrology and hydrogeology of the fen.

The project will be supervised by Steve Robinson and Arnaud Duranel (University of Reading), and Debbie Wilkinson and Graham Earl (South East Water).

The deadline for application is 30th June 2019. For more information and to apply, please refer to the PhD proposal advertised on


The Loddon has flooded…

My name is Jess, a second year PhD student at the University of Reading and quite possibly one of the only people in the country who has been hoping for heavy rain this winter! My research is focussing on the mobility of metal contamination in the floodplain soil with my study site located on the University owned Hall Farm, adjacent to the River Loddon. I was concerned that with the hot summer we experienced last year and the relatively mild winter we’d been having up until very recently that I would be sampling on a floodplain that wouldn’t flood! I have been keeping a close eye on the EA river levels website for Arborfield Bridge, as well as the groundwater level data sent from the borehole logger set up in the field and, of course, the weather forecast. The snow melted and the rains came and I breathed a sigh of relief as I walked to the field to find it was flooded! I wasn’t expecting the flood to be so deep and quickly resigned myself to the fact that my wellies would not save me from wet feet! Despite this, I have now sampled during a flood.

Over the next couple of months I will continue to sample post-flood so I will have extracted soil water (pore water) from across the field before, during and after a flood event. Extraction of the pore water is through high-speed centrifugation of soil samples. I freeze the pore waters to store them and then conduct analyses at labs of the British Geological Survey (BGS) in Keyworth for concentrations of metals, and other explanatory variables. I hope to be able to show whether the flood releases metals that have been bound to the soil from our legacy of industrial contamination. I am also collecting river water and ground water samples to see whether I can detect any movement of the metal contamination from the soil to the environment. Much of the research in this area has previously been done with soil cores in a laboratory under pre-determined conditions, so I hope that my sampling will provide the much needed field data and results that are much more applicable to real-life.

Now recruiting for fully funded PhD! “Evaluating the impact of woodland management and drinking water abstraction on groundwater-fed wetlands”

Healthy, well-functioning natural wetlands are critically important, yet the world is rapidly losing these important habitats due to anthropogenic pressures (Ramsar Convention on Wetlands 2018). Located in Hampshire, Greywell Fen (also called Greywell Moors or Odiham Marsh) is a nationally important alkaline fen, which has been negatively affected by a nearby groundwater abstraction plant now operated by South East Water (SEW), and by tree encroachment. As part of its commitment to sustainability, SEW will soon cease abstraction to improve groundwater conditions in the fen.

The Loddon Observatory (University of Reading), South East Water and the British Geological Survey are offering a fully funded PhD as part of the NERC SCENARIO doctoral training programme to investigate and model the impact of habitat management and groundwater abstraction on the hydrology of the fen. It will be supervised by Joanna Clark (University of Reading), Anne Verhoef (University of Reading), David Macdonald (British Geological Survey) and Debbie Wilkinson (South East Water).

The main aims of this project are to:

  • assess the relative importance of groundwater abstraction and tree encroachment on hydrological patterns at Greywell Fen using historical and current field observations and hydrological modelling;
  • investigate the value of using non-standard datasets such as sub-daily groundwater depths and soil temperature to calibrate hydrological models in groundwater-dependent wetlands; and
  • assess the hydrological effects of a range of abstraction mitigation and vegetation management scenarios.

To address these aims examples of the varied tasks required to be undertaken by the PhD student will include:

  • thermal surveys to map high-resolution spatial patterns in groundwater seepage;
  • geophysical surveys to develop a stratigraphic model of the fen and underlying deposits;
  • development, calibration and validation of a high-resolution integrated hydrological model of the fen, using existing data recorded by SEW and data to be collected by the student; and
  • use of the model to assess the impact of a range of groundwater abstraction and habitat management scenarios.

Training opportunities:

The student will have access to the Reading Researcher Development Programme and will be able to apply to NERC-funded advanced training short courses and policy internships. The student will also receive bespoke training in hydro(geo)logical fieldwork techniques, data analysis and modelling, geophysics, and communication of environmental science, provided by UoR, BGS and SEW specialists. There will be an opportunity to undertake placement(s) and additional training at SEW’s headquarters in Snodland (Kent) and/or laboratory in Farnborough (Hampshire). The student will join the Loddon Observatory programme, as well as a cohort of 5 PhD students and over 20 researchers working on the NERC LANDWISE project (2017-2021).

How to apply:

This project is funded by the SCENARIO NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, subject to a competition to identify the strongest applicants, and by South East water. To apply, please follow the instructions on the SCENARIO website. The deadline for applications is 25 January 2019. A description of the project can be found here.
Applicants should hold or expect to gain a minimum of a 2:1 Bachelor Degree, Masters Degree with Merit, or equivalent in physical geography or a closely related environmental or physical science.
Due to restrictions on the funding this studentship is only open to UK students and EU students who have lived in the UK for the past three years.

For further information please contact Dr Joanna Clark ( or Dr Arnaud Duranel (


Using our LANDWISEly for flood risk management

After recent large flood events, Natural Flood Management (NFM) has emerged over the last decade as a useful and sustainable alternative or complement to more traditional hard engineering solutions to reduce flood risk. Embanking, dredging and concreting rivers, while ignoring runoff-enhancing practices further upstream, can be a short-sighted and often counter-productive approach to flood management. Hard defences have also been associated with a degradation of the river ecosystem and negative impacts on fisheries, biodiversity, water quality and the aesthetical values of what could be described as the veins of the landscape.

NFM involves the adoption of a multitude of small-scale measures that mitigate flooding by restoring or enhancing natural processes in upstream catchment areas to slow the flow of water to reduce peaks in river flow that can cause serious flooding. NFM measures include woodland plantation, the creation of leaky dams and woody debris in small headwater streams, the creation of ponds and restoration of wetlands, the restoration of rivers to a more natural planform and floodplain connectivity, the use of green roofs, pervious pavements and other sustainable urban drainage systems in cities, etc. NFM measures also have potential to deliver multiple benefits in terms of water quality, soil conservation, biodiversity and amenity.

However, there is still limited quantitative evidence on the efficacy of NFM, particularly during the largest flood events. This is particularly the case for measures aiming to enhance infiltration, increase below ground storage, and reduce runoff production long before the water even reaches watercourses, such as soil decompaction methods, cover crops, novel crop rotations, no till arable systems, enhancement of the soil organic matter, hedges, buffer strips, etc.

LANDWISE (LAND Management in lowland catchments for Integrated flood riSk rEduction) is a new research project, led by the University of Reading (UoR) in collaboration with a number of other research institutions and project partners, which will precisely investigate the efficacy of land-based NFM measures to deliver catchment-scale reduction in flood risk.

The project will work at several nested spatial scales within the Thames basin. The Loddon Catchment is one of the three catchments where work will be particularly focussed.

The project has been designed in close collaboration with local stakeholders within the Loddon catchment, and more widely, within the West Thames basin: a number of individual farmers, the Loddon Farm Advice Project, NFU, FWAG, the National Trust, Affinity Water, Local Flood Resilience Groups and Residents Associations, local planning authorities, etc.  Input into the research design, delivery and evaluation by local people and organisations helps to keep the research relevant to those who manage and own land.

Over the next four years, the project will work with volunteering farmers and landowners to:

  • Understand what NFM measures could be realistically delivered now and in future within the Loddon catchment, using surveys, interviews and workshops;
  • Measure the soil properties and water movements (infiltration and/or evaporative losses) in fields where innovative land management is being practiced, and compare these with fields that are managed in a more traditional way.

If you are interested in learning more about LANDWISE, in participating to surveys and workshops, and/or in having measurements being taken from your fields with no disturbance to your current farming practices, please get in touch with Dr Joanna Clark, University of Reading (email:  For more information, please see the project web site ( and Twitter (@NERC_NFM).

2016 Reading Internship

Following the completion of my Environmental Science degree from the University of Reading, I was keen to gain experience of working in an environmental field. I decided to apply for a Wildlife Internship (that was advertised through the Reading Internship Scheme), which involved working for the Loddon Catchment Partnership with the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.

Fortunately my application was successful and my internship started with a visit to the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s head office in Botley where I met my line manager, Ali Morse, the trust’s water quality and catchment technical specialist. That afternoon, we participated in a website training session for the Loddon Catchment Partnership’s new website which, shortly after, became live. Preceding my official internship start date, I attended a meeting of the partnership’s steering group members which included representatives from the Environment Agency, South East Rivers Trust and Wokingham Borough Council. This allowed me to gain up-to-date knowledge of the activities (and also the organisations) involved in the Loddon Catchment and helped me to understand what was trying to be achieved.

During my internship, I thoroughly enjoyed the diversity of tasks I worked on, particularly the work on the website which has involved producing news items, new webpages and the summer newsletter. Following partnership and prioritisation meetings and regular liaison with steering group members, I was able to compile a project list spreadsheet and start composing project briefs (information and details about the projects) and project ‘reviews’ (summarising which and how Water Framework Directive failures would be addressed). I had the opportunity to learn new skills such as using MapInfo Professional (GIS) which I used to produce catchment maps showing the main failures of each Water Framework Directive water body.

Knowing the significance of the work I carried out over the two months was very important to me.  This internship has given me the skills and experience of working within a partnership and catchment, which helped me to gain permanent employment.

Find out more about the Reading Internship Scheme: Information for Students and Information for Employers.