River flow gauging station on the river Kennet Catchment land use UK runoff trends

About the National River Flow Archive

The National River Flow Archive (NRFA) is the UK’s focal point for hydrometric data, providing stewardship of, and access to, daily and monthly river flow data for some 1500 gauging stations nationally since 1982. UK national peak flow data has been provided by the NRFA since 2014.

The NRFA collates, quality controls, and archives data from gauging station networks across the UK, including extensive networks operated by the Environment Agency (England), Natural Resources Wales, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency  and the Rivers Agency (Northern Ireland). NRFA data also include monthly catchment rainfall totals, derived from Met Office data, and various spatial data sets (e.g. digital elevation data, land cover, geology and hydrogeology), developed by CEH and the British Geological Survey (BGS).

The NRFA is mandated by UK government (Defra) and the devolved administrations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to maintain a comprehensive data retrieval service and provide information on water resources nationally. Its activities are formally overseen and reviewed by the Surface and Groundwater Archives steering group (SAGA), an external review committee that meets annually. The NRFA is a major component of CEH's Environmental Information Data Centre.

The NRFA data underpin much of the hydrological research and water resources development and management activity in the UK and is complemented by the National Hydrological Monitoring Programme (NHMP), which provides authoritative commentary on current hydrological conditions and the status of water resources. The NHMP services many of the UK’s international commitments on hydrometric data by regularly submitting data, summary information and reports to such organisations as the WMO Global Runoff Data Centre, the European Environment Agency, Eurostat (the Statistical Office of the European Communities), OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), and the OSPAR Commission.

A brief history of the NRFA

At a national scale the management of hydrological data within the UK has been undertaken within a number of institutions beginning with the Inland Water Survey in the 1930s and 1940s. Responsibility passed to the Surface Water Survey of Great Britain in the 1950s, and, from 1964, the Water Resources Board; the latter was responsible for a rapid growth in the gauging station network and creation of a computer-based National River Flow Archive. In 1974 the work of collecting and publishing surface water information then passed to the newly created Water Data Unit of the Department of the Environment (DoE). In 1982 the Surface Water Archive was transferred to NERC and run within the Institute of Hydrology, now the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. A more detailed description of the history and evolution of river flow measurement and the management of river flow data can be found in the 1985 Yearbook article Inland water surveying in the United Kingdom - a short history.

The National River Flow Archive, and its precursor organisations, traditionally focused on the provision of daily and monthly river flow data. In 2014, the provision of UK wide flood peak data was transferred to the NRFA to enable fully integrated delivery of both key national datasets.

Central to the management of river flow data prior to publication via the internet, was the production of the Hydrological Yearbook, a history of which is available here.

Video: Jamie Hannaford explains more about the work of the
National River Flow Archive (NRFA)