Project: Long-Term Large-Scale Freshwater Ecosystems (LTLS-FE)

Timescale: November 2022- December 2026

Funder: UKRI Natural Environment Research Council

Co-lead investigators: Dr Vicky Bell and Dr Stephen Lofts, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Project Manager: Ellie Pinches, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

LTLS-FE is one of five projects within the NERC Freshwater Quality Programme. LTLS-FE will be the first project to quantify the future impact of climate and socioeconomic change on freshwater biodiversity across the UK.


UK rivers have been subjected to a range of pressures due to the release of chemicals and by-products, such as domestic wastewater, acid rain, the application of nutrients and pesticides to soils, and the use of domestic products such as medicines. While some of these pressures (eg acid rain, wastewater discharges) appear to have eased over recent decades, others (eg pesticides, nutrients) remain and may be increasing.

In addition, climate change is also expected to impact on the quality of UK rivers, for example by leading to changes in human-made chemical use, by changing the amount of water in rivers and thus how much water is available to dilute chemicals, by making storms and floods more or less frequent, and by changing the volume of chemicals washed into rivers from the land.

Climate change could also influence freshwater biodiversity, for example by increasing the exposure of organisms to pulses of toxic chemicals during storms or by increasing the likelihood that UK rivers are invaded by alien species which outcompete native species.

Project overview

The collaborative LTLS-FE project will develop a model that will use these drivers to predict how chemical inputs, river quality and river health will change in the context of different 'pathways', or scenarios of change in society and climate. By doing this, we will provide a range of projections of future river quality and health.

These projections will help scientists and policymakers to understand the main factors controlling river quality and health. This will help them to develop solutions to manage and ameliorate possible changes in the factors that influence river quality and health, with the goal of maintaining and improving the state of UK rivers in a changing world.

Data and model code will be made available at the end of the project, providing other researchers with possibilities such as changing the mathematics of the model, adding new chemicals as they emerge, or applying the model to other countries and parts of the world.

UKCEH contact

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