PhD: Optimizing River Restoration For Multiple Stakeholder Needs via CENTA

Loughborough University

Loughborough, UK 🇬🇧

Project highlights

  • There are no established guidelines or tools that allow the effective evaluation of the benefits for multiple stakeholders that would facilitate the optimal the design of river restoration schemes. This project will apply cutting edge multi-scale and multi-process modelling techniques to address this issue and develop a new framework for optimizing river restoration at varying spatial scales.
  • This project will provide new understanding of synergies and trade-offs for different stakeholder needs for river restoration.
  • The successful candidate will work with a multi-disciplinary supervisory team to develop theoretical and practical knowledge across a range of sub-disciplines including hydrology, geomorphology, ecohydraulics and ecology.


River restoration aims to enhance natural processes to facilitate the recovery of instream hydromorphological heterogeneity and biodiversity, and provide benefits to people and wildlife. Given many rivers around the world have been heavily modified by anthropogenic activities, river restoration has been increasingly adopted to improve ecosystem health and inform the sustainable management of water quality and quantity. There are typically multiple demands and limitations placed on river restoration activities from different stakeholders, including flood risk management, water resources provision, improving water quality and increasing biodiversity, which are legislated in national and international policies legislation such as the 25-year Environment Plan and the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD). At times, these needs may potentially compete with each other and as a result it may be challenging to achieve the aspirations and requirements of all stakeholders simultaneously.

Given there are no established guidelines or tools that effectively evaluate the benefits for multiple stakeholders to optimize the design of river restoration schemes, this PhD project will address the research question of ‘how to optimize river restoration schemes to balance the trade-offs between stakeholder requirements and achieve maximum benefits’, with a focus on physical factors such as flood risk and ecological status.

Through consultation with stakeholders and project partners, the student will develop a systematic approach to evaluate the benefits to multiple stakeholders to help optimize the design of future river restoration activities, and better understand the synergies and trade-offs between different stakeholder needs.

To address this aim, the project might seek to address following objectives:

  1. Understand the needs of multiple stakeholders and map as a set of metrics that can be derived from the physical state of the catchment.
  2. Integrate and apply hydrological, hydraulic and ecology models to evaluate the potential benefits of different river restoration scenarios.
  3. Apply statistical methods to optimize the key parameters of river restoration design and analyse the relationship between stakeholder needs.


The study involves stakeholder engagement and data collection, process-based modelling, and statistical analysis focused on the Rivers Lathkill and Bradford. The student will engage with different stakeholders (including local councils, River Trust and the Environment Agency) to understand their different visions and needs. A catchment scale hydrologic model will be integrated with an in-house hydraulic model and further adapted for scenario-based modelling of river restoration activities. Monte-Carlo or adjoint state-based methods will be used to perform sensitivity analysis and optimization of the river restoration parameters. Based on modelling results and other data available, a mechanistic understanding of the inter-relationships between different stakeholder needs will be hypothesised.

Primary data collection would be gathering views from stakeholders and identifying the potential sites for river restoration, while other data in support of the modelling, such as hydrometric records, topography, and ecological status are available from secondary datasets or from the site when necessary.

Training and skills

The supervisory team will equip the candidate with an inter-disciplinary knowledgebase and skillset required for this project. Training will be provided in skills relating to process-based hydrological and hydraulic modelling, data management, and statistical analysis, either directly by CENTA, or other relevant external training courses, for which funding will be available. The skills developed will equip the candidate with the skills to follow multiple career pathways including academia or industry, such as consultancy, government agencies and charities. The student will be supervised by a multi-disciplinary team that will support writing of peer-reviewed journals and attending academic conferences.

Partners and collaboration

This project is in partnership with the Derbyshire County Council, the Haddon Estate, the River Bradford Action Group and the local community. They will support this project by facilitating and providing their inputs about stakeholder needs and aspirations, facilitating on-site data collection, and sharing relevant data they have. The student and supervisory team will have regular meetings with the partners during the project.

Further details

For further information about the project, please contact any of the supervisory team: Dr Xilin Xia: [email protected]; phone: +44 (0)1509 222396; Prof Paul. J. Wood: [email protected]; phone: +44 (0)1509 223012; Dr Tim Marjoribanks: [email protected]; phone: +44 (0)1509 222622. For more information about the application process, please visit the CENTA website: Please quote LU9_CENTA when completing the application form:

Possible timeline

Year 1

  • Comprehensive literature review, on topics of: (1) Decision making for river restoration. (2) Process-based modelling of catchment processes. (3) Statistical techniques for sensitivity analysis and optimization of model parameters.
  • Stakeholder engagement to understand their needs for river restoration.
  • Translating stakeholder needs into quantifiable metrics.
  • Undertake CENTA and external training sessions.

Year 2

  • Identify and collect data (primary and secondary sources) for hydrological and hydraulic modelling.
  • Numerical modelling of river restoration scenarios.
  • Sensitivity test and optimization of model parameters.
  • Undertake CENTA and external training sessions.

Year 3

  • Analyse inter-relationships between different stakeholder needs and aspirations.
  • Attend international scientific conferences.
  • Writing up thesis.

Further reading

Kalogianni, E. (2020). River restoration is prone to failure unless pre-optimized within a mechanistic ecological framework: Insights from a model-based case study. Water Research, 173, 115550.

Palmer, M. and Ruhi, A. (2019). Linkages between flow regime, biota, and ecosystem processes: Implications for river restoration. Science, 365, eaaw2087

Wohl, E., Lane, S. N., and Wilcox, A. C. (2015). The science and practice of river restoration. Water Resources Research, 51, 5974-5997


A large proportion of the research in this project could be desk-based (secondary data), meaning this project is highly resilient to potential Covid restrictions. Using appropriate physical distancing and other guidelines it is envisaged that engagement with project partners and primary data collection can be managed. If this is not possible, we now have sufficient experience in working online with project partners to ensure substantial benefits from these collaborations for the research. Therefore, even if the situation arises that everything needs to be conducted online, it is still possible to carry out this research with a high standard.

Case funding

This project is suitable for CASE funding


Loughborough University


  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability


Project investigator


How to apply




IHE Delft Institute for Water Education - MSc in Water and Sustainable Development