water@leeds Case Studies

water@leeds staff and students are working on a range of projects across the water cycle, looking at different scales and across different disciplines. We will be posting examples of some of these projects here as case studies of the work we do with our many different project partners and research funders. The case studies will be changed every few months, so there should always be something of interest to come back and view.

Peatlands cover ~17% of the UK land surface, much of which is located in the upland headwaters of river catchments. Historically many of these systems have been managed heavily for grazing livestock and game birds, in particular through the creation of artificial drainage channel networks (aka grips). Much research has been undertaken into peatland soils and vegetation, and the hydrological and biogeochemical properties of water bodies in intact and managed peatland. However freshwater ecosystems have been relatively understudied, perhaps because they are viewed as depauperate owing to harsh habitats with predominantly acidic conditions. However, recent drain-blocking initiatives to rewet damaged peatlands have created thousands of new pools, thus providing an impetus to understand better how aquatic ecosystems are structured and function in both intact and restored peatlands.


The project forms part of Environment Agency (EA)’s Environment Programme to help meet the requirements of the Water Framework Directive (WFD). The WFD is an important piece of EU legislation which was enacted to improve and integrate the way water bodies are managed throughout Europe. The Directive was transposed into UK law in 2003 and much of its implementation is carried out by the EA. This is done in a series of planning cycles which allows plans to take into account longterm environmental trends (such as climate change) and improved understanding of basin characteristics. The first cycle must be completed by 2015.


Ensuring access to clean water supply is one of the Millennium Development Goals which cannot be achieved without a sustainable financial mechanism. However, despite global commitments, investment in water sector improvements remains below socially optimal level in the developing world. The lack of investment in the water sector, despite a clear economic case for it, is due to a combination of factors including the capital intensive nature of water supply systems, lack of understanding of the full range of benefits associated with adequate and clean supply of water among policy makers and water users and the weak financial position of developing country governments.


This project examines the role of natural and artificial pools in the peatland carbon cycle. Pools are known ‘hotspots’ of methane (CH4) emissions, a potent greenhouse gas, but the reasons for this are unknown. Many new pools are being created artificially as degraded peatlands are restored by blocking man-made drainage ditches. Therefore, understanding the processes operating within and around peatland pools is a key research question.


In the UK water is usually managed for a series of single functions, i.e.: distribution, collection & treatment systems, drainage infrastructure and flood defences. Integrating flood protection with new forms of environmentally and social conscious urban design can help connect these functions, make them more adaptable to uncertainties of the future, reduce energy costs associated with them and improve the environment.