Project highlights

  • Multidisciplinary: research will span a range of disciplines at the interface of freshwater ecology, conservation biology, geomorphology and agri-environmental sustainability.
  • Highly employable and well-rounded skillset will be developed: complementary desktop (statistical and geospatial analysis) and practical (field sampling and laboratory based research including macroinvertebrate sampling and identification) techniques will be undertaken.
  • Applied and current real-world engagement: the project will answer important research questions of high contemporary societal relevance helping to underpin and inform river management, conservation and policy efforts in addition to working directly with relevant stakeholders and end users.


Excessive fine sediment (typically particles <2mm) is one of the principal reasons for the failure of waterbodies to achieve good ecological status under the EU Water Framework Directive with widely acknowledged ecological effects for the entire trophic food web (Mathers et al., 2017). Although the input, transport, and storage of fine sediment is a natural component of river function, anthropogenic modifications have resulted in contemporary inputs far exceeding historic levels (Collins and Zhang, 2016). To combat this, a number of UK initiatives have been implemented to reduce fine sediment inputs to waterbodies including the English Catchment Sensitive Farming Delivery Initiative (£29M invested) and the ‘Interreg project source to tap’ in Northern Ireland (£4.9M). More recently, the Agricultural bill in 2020, will reward farmers and land managers in England for ‘public goods’ such as enhancing biodiversity, improving water quality or reducing flooding under the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELM: Gov.UK, 2020). One means of tackling riverine fine sediment whilst also enhancing biodiversity is the installation of sediment traps and buffer ponds (e.g. see Catchment Based Approach, 2021).

Despite their wide occurrence in agri-environment schemes, little is known about the contribution of sediment mitigation methods to landscape biodiversity or their efficacy for reducing fine sediment pollution for riverine health. Some research has suggested that small water bodies including artificial and unique lentic waterbodies (Biggs et al., 2017) may support high numbers of aquatic organisms in addition to those with high conservation value (Cerini et al., 2020). This project will work with leading stakeholders and project partners engaged in agricultural management and monitoring to provide essential information that will feed directly into policy and real-world environmental management. The project will seek to: i) quantify the current uptake and distribution of the various aquatic-based sediment mitigation methods; ii) quantify the biodiversity and conservation value of sediment retention ponds; and iii) assess the effectiveness of sediment retention methods in mitigating fine sediment pressures for riverine systems.

CENTA Flagship

This is a CENTA Flagship Project

Case funding

This project is suitable for CASE funding


Loughborough University


  • Organisms and Ecosystems


Project investigator


How to apply


The student will work with case partners to identify and quantify the current uptake of sediment management techniques under agri-environment schemes including sediment retention ponds / traps / wetlands. Specific case study locations will be identified where previous research has been undertaken (e.g. Biddulph et al., 2017), but study sites will also include dated historic ponds to provide a more distributed sampling programme to examine the contribution of sediment trap ponds to landscape biodiversity. Contemporary ecological sampling of sediment trap ponds (or other aquatic based sediment retention measures) and other waterbodies in the landscape will be undertaken to characterise their biodiversity and conservation value. Specific factors contributing to their biodiversity value will be examined such as pond connectivity (utilising geospatial analysis), pond age and implementation of restoration or management measures (e.g. Hill et al., 2019).

Training and skills

The supervisory team will equip the student with an interdisciplinary knowledge base and skillset required for this project. The project will forge skills in handling, organising and processing ecological and sedimentological data both in the field and laboratory. Training will be provided in ecological methods including macroinvertebrate identification and in collecting and processing sedimentological data. Through a placement with the Environment Agency (EA), the PhD student will gain skills and training directly relevant to pursuing a career in environmental management, policy and conservation or in academia engaging with applied and real-world research.

Partners and collaboration

The student will work directly with the Environment Agency via Dr. Jessica Durkota, a Senior Advisor in the Agriculture, Risk and Evaluation team who will facilitate engagement with national and local teams at the EA and Catchment Sensitive Farming Officers at Natural England to define aspects of the project and identify potential field locations. The student will also work with Prof. Adrian Collins at Rothamsted Research who has extensive on the ground experience of working with landowners and policy makers, implementing catchment-based farming practices, and has a track record in testing the efficacy of on-farm measures for water pollution management.

Further details

For further information about this project please contact Dr. Kate Mathers ([email protected]) or Prof. Paul Wood ([email protected]). For general information about CENTA and the application process, please visit the CENTA website: For further enquiries about the application process, please contact the School of Social Sciences & Humanities ([email protected]). Please quote LU3_CENTA when completing the application form:

Possible timeline

Year 1

  • Undertake relevant literature reviews which could include: (1) the ecology of freshwater pond / small waterbody ecosystems; (2) the ecology of riverine ecosystems; (3) the threats of fine sediment within riverine ecosystems and the potential role of agri-environmental schemes and sediment retention measures; (4) the biodiversity and conservation value of small waterbodies at the landscape scale including natural capital and environmental land management.
  • Identify potential secondary data studies and field work locations based on case partners’ direct engagement and experience with historic and contemporary agri-environmental management schemes.
  • Mapping of the uptake and implementation of different agri-environmental schemes including sediment dentation ponds / wetlands.
  • Undertake CENTA, external and inhouse training
  • Begin primary data collection via fieldwork

Year 2

  • Continue primary data collection consisting of field and laboratory work
  • Analyse secondary data available from case partners
  • Undertake CENTA, external and inhouse training
  • Undertake CENTA placement with Environment Agency

Year 3

  • Finish remaining primary and secondary data set processing / analysis
  • Attend international scientific conferences
  • Write up thesis

Further reading


Biddulph, M., Collins, A.L., Foster, I.D. and Holmes, N., 2017. The scale problem in tackling diffuse water pollution from agriculture: Insights from the Avon Demonstration Test Catchment programme in England. River Research and Applications33(10), pp.1527-1538.

Biggs, J., Von Fumetti, S. and Kelly-Quinn, M., 2017. The importance of small waterbodies for biodiversity and ecosystem services: implications for policy makers. Hydrobiologia793(1), pp.3-39.

Catchment Based Approach (2021) The water sensitive farming initiative: A case study . Available at: (Accessed 3rd October 2021).

Cerini, F., Bologna, M.A. and Vignoli, L., 2020. Nestedness-patterns of Odonata assemblages in artificial and natural aquatic habitats reveal the potential role of drinking troughs for aquatic insect conservation. Journal of Insect Conservation24(3), pp.421-429.

Collins, A.L. and Anthony, S.G., 2008. Assessing the likelihood of catchments across England and Wales meeting ‘good ecological status’ due to sediment contributions from agricultural sources. Environmental science & policy11(2), pp.163-170

Collins, A.L. and Zhang, Y., 2016. Exceedance of modern ‘background’ fine-grained sediment delivery to rivers due to current agricultural land use and uptake of water pollution mitigation options across England and Wales. Environmental Science and Policy, 61, 61-73.

Gov.UK (2020) Landmark agriculture bill becomes law. Available at: (Accessed 9th September 2021).

Hill, M.J., Heino, J., White, J.C., Ryves, D.B. and Wood, P.J., 2019. Environmental factors are primary determinants of different facets of pond macroinvertebrate alpha and beta diversity in a human-modified landscape. Biological Conservation237, pp.348-357.

Mathers, K.L., Rice, S.P. and Wood, P.J., 2017. Temporal effects of enhanced fine sediment loading on macroinvertebrate community structure and functional traits. Science of the Total Environment599, pp.513-522.


The project will utilise and work with established project partners working at the heart of the agri-environmental arena. As such secondary data would be available for use within the project should uncertainties arise with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with the Environment Agency ensures that spatially and temporally extensive data would be available from online databases and would enable a move to investigate the role of other agri-environmental schemes in mitigating fine sediment pollution to riverine systems should this be required, providing a COVID resilient project from the start.