Making Nature Based Solutions at the Landscape Scale A Reality: An investigation of the barriers and spatial disconnection between NBS Investments and Beneficiaries - PhD via FindAPhD

Heriot Watt University

Edinburgh, UK 🇬🇧

About the Project

Landscape challenges such as flood risk, water quality, biodiversity loss and climate change are growing problems in Scotland, the UK and globally. However, it is increasingly being recognized that they cannot be completely addressed using traditional approaches such as flood defence and water treatment alone due to them not being sustainable under climate change and financial constraints. The solutions to these problems are no longer seen as being just on-site, and thinking is shifting upstream and to the catchment/landscape scales using Nature-Based Solutions (NBS), such as wetlands, ponds, and river restoration. The evidence for the impacts is strong at the local scale, but the larger spatial scale impact is highly uncertain. Complexity is introduced in the upscaling process due to the spatial disconnection between the NBS intervention (upstream) and the problem that is being solved (downstream). This also means that the people responsible for implementing NBS are often not the people who benefit from them. This makes the co-ordination, governance and investment in NBS challenging and is preventing its more mainstream adoption at catchment scales. There are many stakeholders involved e.g., landowners, tenant farmers, environmental managers, all with their own priorities and opinions. Financial mechanisms of implementing NBS such as compensation or other environmental-based incentives are also barriers to implementation.


The aim of this PhD scholarship is to demonstrate the spatial linkages between investments in NBS and the beneficiaries (who, location, value) of the multiple ecosystem services they supply and to assist environmental managers to overcome barriers and optimize NBS implementation at the catchment scale, improve decision making and attract more funding through the development of a serious game.


A mixed methods approach including stakeholder engagement and GIS analysis will be applied to address these objectives. The Allan Water Catchment and Stakeholder Partnership will be the focus case study. A researcher-community-stakeholder competency group will be established consisting of landowners, farmers, Rivers Trust, SEPA, NatureScot and the Scottish Government. Workshops will be organized to capture information and data about the Natural Capital and NBS within or planned for the catchment and understand perceptions and barriers to wider adoption of NBS. The student will benefit from training and network events through the Hydro Nation Scholarship Programme to support their studies.

The spatial data elicited from the competency group will be inputted into a GIS to map NBS investments within the catchment. GIS will be used to develop rules from which to calculate the beneficiaries of the NBS using the spatial analyst toolbox. An example could be how slowing the flow in a tributary impacts downstream flood risk due to changes in sub-catchment synchronicity or how river restoration could open up reaches upstream to migrating salmonids.

Finally, a serious game will be co-developed with the competency group to demonstrate the benefits of NBS and how they can be more widely adopted. A serious game is a game which has specific purpose of education, training or assisting in decision making in a low risk environment. The Triadic Game Design principle will be applied, where Reality, Meaning and Play are balanced to result in a game that players want to play but also learn something relevant at the same time. It will then be independently evaluated using another catchment partnership.

Outline plan for first 12-18 months

Literature Review – A comprehensive review of academic and industry literature on NBS, focussing on the aspects of their implementation including governance, financing models, Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services.

Stakeholder Engagement – A stakeholder mapping exercise and strategies for establishing a competency group will be developed, requiring knowledge on social science methodologies of co-production. Initial workshops will be held to capture stakeholder information/data and critical evaluation of barriers to NBS adoption.

Development of the GIS platform – The data will be quality controlled, formats standardised and inputted into GIS. Initial assessments of stakeholder investments in NBS will be carried out and maps produced.

Applicants are strongly advised to make an informal enquiry about the PhD to the primary supervisor well before the final submission deadline. Applicants must send a completed Hydro Nation Scholarship application form (available here with a Curriculum Vitae and covering letter to Dr Ian Pattison ([email protected] ) by the final submission deadline of 7th January 2022.

Funding Notes

The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is an open competition for PhD Scholars to undertake approved projects, hosted within Scottish Universities and Research Institutes. This project will be hosted by Heriot-Watt University. Full funding is available from the Scottish Government (to host institutions via the Scottish Funding Council). The funding available will be in line with the UKRI doctoral stipend levels and indicative fees. Applicants should have a first-class honours degree in a relevant subject or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent). Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed on 27th or 28th January 2022