A UK-wide network of state-of-the-art hydrological measuring equipment and digital technology is set to transform this country’s research into floods and droughts. It will provide the science needed to enable communities and businesses to become more resilient to the impacts of extreme weather events, which are likely to become more frequent and severe under future climate change.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has announced that it intends to invest £38 million towards a Floods and Droughts Research Infrastructure (FDRI), subject to approval of a business case for the project early next year.

FDRI is due to be established over five years starting in April 2023 by the Natural Environment Research Council, part of UKRI, and its strategic partners including the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. It will provide a step-change in the study of hydrological processes within catchments

The new investment will fund the deployment and testing of cutting-edge imaging equipment and sensors to measure river flows, rainfall, soil moisture, groundwater levels and water quality in selected river basins across the UK – in Southeast, Northwest and Northeast England, Wales and East Scotland. There will be a combination of fixed instruments and mobile equipment such as drones to monitor river flows, which can be deployed to different areas at times of floods and droughts.

This infrastructure will generate more comprehensive and reliable data in near real time for different regions, enabling researchers to improve computer models to predict when and where floods and droughts will happen, and how severe they will be. FDRI will therefore provide the robust scientific evidence needed to inform national policies, better management of water resources, emergency planning for floods and droughts, and improved protection of the environment

The announcement of funding for FDRI follows a comprehensive 21-month-long scoping study, led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) and other partners, which established the requirements for this new research infrastructure.

The study involved consultation with scientists and engineers, as well as representatives of government agencies, water companies, the farming sector, instrument manufacturers, river trusts and flood forums. FDRI is being jointly developed by this collaboration of scientists and different stakeholders.

Without significant investment in a UK-wide network of high-tech digitally enabled monitoring and measuring equipment, our ability to monitor, measure, predict, prepare for and mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events will be severely limited, and the cost and damage to society and the environment will spiral upwards.

Financial investments in flood and drought mitigation and adaptation strategies are much lower than the potentially avoided damage to the economy, society and environment. In England, the winter floods of 2015-16 alone caused £1.6 billion in economic damage, while drought during 2021 caused a loss in revenue of at least £165 million.

NERC is working with UKCEH and other strategic partners to develop FDRI.

Dr Iain Williams, Director of Strategic Partnerships at NERC, explains: “Increasing the UK’s resilience to extreme flood and drought events is an important response to changes in climate and human activity. This Floods and Droughts Research Infrastructure will provide an exciting step-change for new digitally enabled research, hydrological data, and technological innovations across the UK. I am very grateful to the hydrological community who have helped shape the development of this investment.”

Professor David Hannah, Director of the Birmingham Institute for Sustainability and Climate Action at the University of Birmingham and Chair of the FDRI scoping study steering committee, says: “I am thrilled that UKRI have allocated funds – for field monitoring, digital infrastructure and innovation testbeds for technology development – to transform our understanding of river basin hydrological processes and system dynamics. Such new fundamental research is vital to underpin sustainable catchment management, and enhance ecosystem and human resilience to flood and drought impacts in a changing water world.”

Professor Mark Bailey, Executive Director of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, adds: “Water plays a critical role in economic growth and the wellbeing of society. Our changing climate is altering the frequency and impacts of both floods and droughts. Investment in FDRI represents a great opportunity for the UK hydrological community to work together to deliver the science that is so urgently needed to inform societal resilience to extreme floods and droughts.”

A report on the results of the scoping study can be read on the FDRI project page.

Notes to editors

The FDRI scoping study, funded by UKRI and NERC, ran from May 2020 to January 2022 and was led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology working in collaboration with the British Geological Survey, the University of Bristol and Imperial College London. It was advised by an independent steering committee formed of experts. The study involved consultation with representatives from academia, regulatory authorities and industry, and included interactive webinars, workshops and focus groups.

Media enquiries

For further information including an infographic showing how the FDRI would operate, some photos and a pdf of the report, and to arrange interviews, please contact the UKCEH press office via cehpress@ceh.ac.uk or +44 (0)7920 295384.

About UK Research and Innovation

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is the largest public funder of research and innovation in the UK, with a budget of around £8bn. It is composed of seven disciplinary research councils, Innovate UK and Research England.

We operate across the whole country and work with our many partners in higher education, research organisations businesses, government, and charities.

Our vision is for an outstanding research and innovation system in the UK that gives everyone the opportunity to contribute and to benefit, enriching lives locally, nationally and internationally.

Our mission is to convene, catalyse and invest in close collaboration with others to build a thriving, inclusive research and innovation system that connects discovery to prosperity and public good.


About the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH)

The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is a centre for excellence in environmental science across water, land and air. Our 500-plus scientists work to understand the environment, how it sustains life and the human impact on it – so that together, people and nature can prosper.

We have a long history of investigating, monitoring and modelling environmental change, and our science makes a positive difference in the world.

The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is a strategic delivery partner for the Natural Environment Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation.

www.ceh.ac.uk / @UK_CEH / LinkedIn: UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology