Project: Long-Term Large-Scale Freshwater Ecosystems (LTLS-FE): Analysis and future scenarios of long-term and large-scale freshwater quality and impacts
Timescale: Nov 2022-Oct 2026
Funder: UKRI Natural Environment Research Council
Co-lead investigators: Dr Vicky Bell and Dr Stephen Lofts, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

The challenge

Investigating how the quality and health of UK rivers might be affected by future changes in the way society uses chemicals and water, and how these might be further affected by climate change. This is a complex problem, because the factors that drive river quality are many and they will vary over time and from place to place.


Rivers in the United Kingdom 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 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.

We will also make the data and model code available to all 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 people

Co-lead investigator
Co-lead investigator