Floods and Droughts Research Infrastructure:

Investing in state-of-the-art community-led research infrastructure to improve the UK’s resilience to floods and droughts

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has successfully secured £38 million from the UKRI Infrastructure Fund towards the establishment of a UK-wide, digitally enabled Floods and Droughts Research Infrastructure (FDRI). 

The investment will facilitate the hydrological science and innovation needed to make the UK more adaptable and resilient to floods and droughts. It will include urgently needed UK-wide deployments of instruments for observing our water environment, novel digital solutions to support data use, and testbeds for technological innovations. FDRI will ensure that the UK continues to provide global leadership for hydrological research and innovation, driving solutions worldwide.

Why is UKRI investing in FDRI?

Floods and droughts cause significant economic, social and environmental impacts. These extreme weather events are predicted to increase in intensity, frequency, and duration due to future climate change and human activity, including land-use change. This change in climate risk is outpacing progress in adaptation policy and its implementation.

Without a significant investment in whole-system, hydrological research infrastructure, evidence to underpin the UK’s resilience to increasingly intense and frequent flood and drought events will be limited, and the costs and damages to society and the environment will spiral upwards.

This significant infrastructure investment was made possible by a 21-month-long NERC- and UKRI-funded scoping study that determined research community requirements for an FDRI. Through the consultation 749 members of the hydrological research community were contacted, including representatives from academia, regulatory authorities and industry.

What will the impact of FDRI be?

FDRI will be available for use by the hydrological community to support the answering of fundamental research and innovation questions with the overarching aim to improve societal resilience to flood and drought events across the UK.

FDRI will facilitate:

  • A network of digitally supported hydrological research infrastructure to provide near real-time data for research on hydrological extremes
  • Increased capability to understand the processes of extreme hydrological events across the UK
  • Transformative innovation in field tools and data analysis to measure, predict and monitor the impact of extreme hydrological events.

Information from FDRI will provide the basis for future national- and local- level climate impact mitigation and adaptation strategies. It will underpin the evidence base for future investment in flood and drought protection schemes (enabling the adoption of more sustainable and adaptive solutions) and the delivery of national and international policies.

What is the FDRI and where will it be located?

This investment will enable focused observations of water input, movement, and storage in five well characterised river basin observatories across the UK, with mobile instruments included for temporary deployment in all parts of the UK.

Although the specific basins have not yet been confirmed they will be located in the following UK regions: Southeast-, Northwest- and Northeast-England, mid-Wales and East Scotland. Digital solutions will underpin the observational infrastructure and facilitate data use (data discovery, access, processing and integration).

More specifically:

  • FDRI will be a community co-designed, UK-wide catchment-scale hydrological monitoring and digital research infrastructure (Figure 1 below), combining field-based innovation testbeds with long-term integrated sensor networks, mobile infrastructure deployments, and Earth Observation.
  • FDRI will provide knowledge at spatio-temporal scales previously not possible and enable the development of decision support tools needed to underpin evidence-based policy and decision making.
  • FDRI digital research infrastructure will enable near-real-time analysis and open access data. Third-party data will be standardised and large amounts of complex information from across multiple catchments will be captured, enabling cross-site analyses at a national scale.
  • FDRI will include unique field-based testbeds to support the evolution of technologies, such as environmental sensors, measurement techniques and digital innovation, from lab-based conception through to research, development and deployment.
  • FDRI will facilitate new approaches to collaborative, community working via its hub-and-spoke arrangement and offer flexibility through mobile infrastructure to enable place-based research and connectivity to digital infrastructure.


Flowchart linking the elements of an integrated sensor network on a basin
Figure 1: Illustration of the indicative FDRI infrastructure for one observatory hosting fixed infrastructure.


Scientific basis for FDRI

The overarching aim of FDRI is to provide observations of key components of the terrestrial water cycle, along with a complimentary digital infrastructure, that will facilitate new science (discoveries and exciting technical innovations) to enhance the UK’s resilience to floods and droughts.

Extensive community consultations and reviews throughout the Phase 1 Scoping Study identified several key flood and drought science challenges and digital requirements. These are being used to inform the design the observational infrastructure, prioritise the digital aspects and define the innovation and capacity building programmes.

How will FDRI be implemented?

As a NERC National Capability delivery partner, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) will lead FDRI’s implementation and support its operation beyond 2028.

FDRI will facilitate new approaches to collaborative, community working via a hub-and-spoke arrangement. It will offer flexibility across the UK hydrological community to deliver new multi-disciplinary ways of working, and collaborations across academia, industry and regulators.

Implementation is planned to take place over five years, starting in April 2023 and is subject to UKRI approving a business case.

The FDRI project includes four phases.

4 Phases of the FDRI Project

Within the overall plan, each phase will have different requirements and interaction with the community. 

During Phase 1 we undertook a Scoping study which encouraged wide community engagement, resulting in contact with researchers, regulators, water companies, interest groups. The outcome was a successful application to UKRI for infrastructure funding.  

To secure this funding the FDRI team are now focused on a Planning and Design phase (Phase 2) which involves the development of a robust business case and the successful completion of several related gateway reviews.  During this phase detailed planning is being undertaken to develop the ambitions and scope of FDRI. NERC is currently establishing a Community Advisory Group that will work with the core team to review and confirm plans.

We will continue to engage with the community so FDRI can take account of evolving observational and digital needs, facilitate innovation and build community science capacity.  

Get involved

The contribution of the hydrological community to the project is vital. This is your opportunity to become part of a collaborative, influential network. Your involvement will enable us to gain a clear understanding of the range and diversity of opinions and priorities across the community and will guide project outcomes. 

Join us and become part of a collaborative network

Please note: due to GDPR guidelines it is important that you 'opt in' to ensure your participation.

To find out more about the project or to change your involvement level, please contact fdri@ceh.ac.uk






UKCEH lead investigator