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Effectiveness of water management

Work Package Water resources and flood risk management

Research Deliverable 
Effectiveness of water management


Human societies place many demands on our freshwater systems.  We hope they can provide everything from recreational opportunities through to safe drinking water.  These aims are often reflected and reinforced in the goals of formal policies, especially the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the Floods Directive (FD).  However, although we often have relatively good understanding of the biophysical challenges – e.g. pollution levels that cause eutrophication and harm fish populations – tackling these problems is rarely easy or straightforward.  Furthermore, actions to achieve one goal – e.g. altering building of concrete embankments to reduce flood risks – may conflict with other goals - e.g. restoring catchment ecology to achieve good ecological status.  Certain types of intervention offer ‘win wins’ that help support multiple goals – for example Natural Flood Management (NFM) can help to support both Flood Risk Management and ecological restoration – but in other cases trade-offs may have to be accepted.

Finding ways to improve water management – to better achieve these goals – is rarely straightforward.  The ultimate causes of problems must be understood, and then addressing these often requires changes by individuals and organisations.  Multiple social, economic and biophysical factors may drive and reinforce actions that harm the environment or that prevent us from achieving all our goals.  This means that we need to reflect on the goals and priorities that we have for our water environment, carefully appraise the range of ‘instruments’ or approaches that could help us achieve these goals, and build understanding of how – and with whom - to implement them.  This RD focuses on building this understanding to help inform and improve future water management. It draws on a mixture of disciplinary skills and expertise including, but not limited to, the social and economic sciences.

Aim of Research

To enable the uptake of measures that will improve water management, both to improve water quality and to contribute to flood risk management.  This RD examines the options to improve water management in the complex socio-economic and policy settings of 'real world' catchment management. Separate projects within this RD range in their focus from reviewing lessons from water management in other countries, through to lessons that can be derived from ongoing work in Scottish catchments, and in synthesising evidence and providing tools that can help policy and practitioners to select, target and design measures.


2021 / 2022
2021 / 2022

This Research Deliverable has successfully completed research and engagement with stakeholders to provide insights into water management. We have provided insights on how catchment partnerships help deliver multiple goals; most recently highlighting the role of private sector actors in partnerships, and considering the resonance of our implications for other types of landscape partnerships.

We have also completed our work to inform and support planning for natural flood management in landscapes, especially where to site bunds for temporary flood storage, the F-MAPT tool, and continuing knowledge exchange via the NFM Network.


2020 / 2021
2020 / 2021

Some of the work on this RD was changed or delayed this year, due to the effect of the covid-19 pandemic: however, good progress was still made in developing work with and for stakeholders, to assist in real-world decision-making about water management.  There are three strands of work.

The first strand of work, has explored how joined-up delivery of goals for water management may be enabled by catchment partnership. In this year it produced a major report finding that catchment partnerships are shaped and constrained by pre-existing governance systems but can indeed help deliver multiple objectives. Successful partnership working is like a dynamic ‘balancing act’, which depends on the activities of individual representatives and especially the coordinator.

The second strand of work, has used ‘logic chain modelling’ to identify potential for improving water and land management. It has identified there is a need for capacity to enable collective landscape scale management within and across properties;  data and digital technologies can enable aiding land and water resource manager decision making as long they meet 12 principles, which include being practical and credible. An analysis of five case studies highlighted the importance of social processes for landscape scale management within and across properties; and the need for digital social innovations in environmental monitoring to meet stakeholder needs and collective landscape scale management.

The third strand of work is communication and improving guidance, including a spatial analysis tool called ‘F-MAPT’, and a network to share knowledge on Natural Flood Management (NFM).  In the last year F-MAPT has been successfully applied to 2 catchments, where it has indicatively identified pond locations, length of bunds and volume estimates.  Additionally, the Natural Flood Management (NFM) network continues to grow with around 350 subscribers internationally (but with a core membership base in Scotland). A popular aspect of the network is the twice yearly e-bulletin which summarises key NFM highlights.


  • RESAS research on natural flood management (NFM) informs a UK Government POSTnote on ‘Natural mitigation of flood risk’. A briefing by the UK Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology was published recently delivering the  key messages: a) NFM delivers other co-benefits, b) NFM is useful in relation to smaller more frequent floods and can be a relatively low-cost option, and c) NFM should often be used in conjunction with other approaches.  The briefing included research ranging from hydro-morphology to social science.
  • Insights about partnership working were referenced by the Scottish Land Use Commission in 2 appendices to their "Advice To Scottish Government On The Establishment Of Regional Land Use Partnerships", both within the James Hutton Institute research analysis provided by SLC as annex 3 to its report, and in a review of International Experience commissioned by the SLC, annex 2 to the report. The SLC report and these annexes are available at
2019 / 2020
2019 / 2020

There are three strands of work which comprise this RD, and all have made good progress this year, with many of the final outputs and messages due for public dissemination in the coming year (2020-2021).  Firstly, the project to understand if and how catchment partnerships support delivery of multiple policy goals has completed its data collection on 4 selected partnerships: an interim short report on key issues was published and full analysis of these data will be completed and reported in the coming year. Secondly, the work on logic-chain modelling has resulted in a report and a web application that has been shared with National Park colleagues, based on stakeholder feedback this strand has focussed on available land cover data and assessing changes in land cover. A linked SEFARI Fellowship with SNH and SEPA on ‘Innovations in environmental monitoring’ was started in May.   Lastly, the project to improve and share knowledge on Natural Flood Management has made good progress in testing its tool to map placement of measures to alter overland flow pathways.  Colleagues working on all these projects have also used their expertise from this and related work to respond to requests from both local and national-level stakeholders.


  • Work from across 1.2 was presented at Scotland Europa House, Brussels by the lead of 1.2.4, Kerry Waylen. This was an invited Hutton presentation 'A joined up approach to managing the water environment: a research perspective' as part of their 'Environmental Leaders' breakfast seminar series. The presentation also described CREW and Hydronation (presented by Richard Allan) and an example of related H2020 collaborations. A short blog piece resulting from this is available.
  • The petitions committee requested a response by the James Hutton Institute, for petition PE01720: Natural Flood Alleviation Strategy for Scotland. Our response built strongly on expertise on NFM built within this RD 1.2.4, and also on expertise from predecessor work in the 2011-2016 Strategic Research Programme.
  • Report available on the functioning of catchment-scale partnerships. Catchment partnerships in complex river catchments often have goals that reflect multiple agency objectives, e.g. to improve water quality and also reduce flood risks. A brief report based on interim results examines the current understanding of the role and effectiveness of catchment partnerships in delivering flooding and water quality goals.
  • Landcover change: Discussions with Scotland’s National Park Authorities have assessed the suitability of using currently existing remotely sensed landcover datasets to assess landcover change in the National Parks (2006-2018). ‘CORINE’ was found to be the most suitable dataset and landcover change was found to be increasing in both Parks. A technical report has been finalised following feedback from National Park colleagues and has been presented to Scottish Government and a broad stakeholder audience.
  • Collaboration strengthened with applied research in Ireland. SEFARI researchers presented multiple aspects of RESAS-funded research at the Catchment Science 2019 conference (Wexford, November 2019), including modelling of phosphorus sources and mitigation; the F-MAPT tool to enable placement of Flooding Measures, riparian management, water payment for ecosystem services and soil erosion work. Researchers are working closely with the Teagasc Institute and the Irish EPA in riparian and NFM allied research projects with mutual benefit for the land.
2018 / 2019
2018 / 2019

The focus of this year was on consolidating and communicating insights about enabling and improving aspects of water management. A variety of outputs have been published by the two strands of work on policy integration  and on logic-chain modelling. This has been informed and complemented by engagement with non-academic stakeholders, ranging from Europe’s Working Group ‘F’ on Floods (of the WFD Common Implementation Strategy) through to discussion with staff in the National Parks. 

Stakeholder networking and information-sharing is a central purpose of the NFM network Scotland, and it has become well-recognised.  One year after its establishment it now has over 250 subscribers and thousands of pageviews, with user-generated news items, events and case-studies. Related to this, the first E-bulletins have been issued. Alongside this, work continues on a new open source GIS workflow to allow landowners to identify where to place measures that disconnect overland flow pathways in the farmed environment (F-MAPT).


  • European Commission’s Working Group F invited us to present findings from our research on the interaction of the planning processes under the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and Floods Directive, at their autumn 2018 meeting. Discussion and subsequent feedback indicate that it was well received. The slides and a briefing on implications are available from the project web page.
  • Our insights on integration also fed into a high profile review on the future of the WFD: the lead of this paper was asked to give evidence to a WFD Fitness Check meeting, which in turn inspired a blog by the European Environment Agency asking for better policy integration to deliver the WFD in future.
  • The project on logic chain modelling developed a prototype web application to help guide spatial decision-making and planning.
  • The NFM network was mentioned in the Scottish Government report 'Implementation of the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009' and was part of Roseanna Cunningham’s keynote speech to the Scottish Flood Risk Management Conference in Glasgow, February 2019.


2017 / 2018
2017 / 2018

We continued to develop the three strands of work in this Research Deliverable, and discussed early insights with academic and policy groups. Firstly, the project to explore the integration of the Floods Directive and Water Framework Directive completed interviews with policy implementers across the UK, Sweden and Flanders, building on the earlier analysis of plans from these and other European countries. Secondly, the work on Logic modelling was discussed with Scottish policy-makers.

Lastly, we launched the NFM Network Scotland  to share user-generated news items, events and case-studies. Discussions with various stakeholders continued throughout the year and shaped the work.   Alongside this, there was development of an open source GIS workflow to allow landowners to identify where to place measures that disconnect overland flow pathways in the farmed environment (F-MAPT).


  • An invited presentation at the MARS final conference, to discuss how River Basin Management might be improved, drew on the work on integration (and other projects), to discuss various ways in which integration can be promoted, including via ‘vertical consistency’, common visions; operational integration, and using monitoring to learn and improve integration.
  • A new research paper, using Scottish case studies, looks at the user understanding necessary to satisfy increasing demand from stakeholders for tools to support outcomes-based approaches in environmental management.
  • The Natural Flood Management network was launched at, supported by a press release that contained quotes from Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham and SEPA Chief Executive, Terry A’Hearn, and gained national media coverage.
2016 / 2017
2016 / 2017

Year 1 saw the launch and development of three new projects.  Firstly, a project to explore how to integrate the delivery of the Floods Directive and Water Framework Directive. In consultation with government and agency stakeholders, a methodology was designed to review selected cases from across Europe, for evidence of links in the planning processes specified under each policy.  Late in 2016, a document analysis of these plans and the results was discussed with EU Working Group F of the WFD Common Implementation Strategy. More information about this project is available from the project web page. Secondly, a project was designed to review policy decision making using a 'logic chain' modelling approach; more information about this project is also available from its project web page. Thirdly, flood management scientists planned work to develop a Scottish National Flood Network and made links to flood management evidence through aligned work with Defra, in order to enable knowledge exchange on this topic. Plans for this network developed in close partnership with CREW, SEPA and Scottish Government policy teams.

Two other projects also took place under this RD. Firstly, a project to assess the efficacy of farmer visits in changing behaviour in priority catchments, based on SEPA's data collected during past visits. This project built on prior work and was completed in early 2017. More information about this completed project is available here. Secondly, an interdisciplinary project in the Lunan catchment to build understanding of which incentives and arrangements might be considered appropriate and effective to enable and encourage stakeholders to adopt measures that will improve water quality and/or manage water levels and flows. This project build on work from previous projects, and from spring 2017 was part of RD1.4.3. More information about this project is available here or within the RD1.4.3 page.


  • A paper on integrating the requirements of the Floods Directive and Water Framework Directive was presented to the European Commission Common Implementation Strategy (the presentation and accompanying report are available here).
  • A collaborative paper discussing the use of the term ‘Nature-Based Solutions’; a new term in environmental research and management, involving Work Package 1.2 staff along with European Union authors, was published in STOTEN, and this paper was then discussed in Nature.
  • Early deliverables on logic chain modelling were completed. A report has been produced on the potential of logic modelling to help policy and management of natural assets. This report informed Scottish Government colleagues working on outcome-based approaches.
  • The work in the Lunan catchment saw the establishment of a key user group (land owners and local authority) to oversee water level management decision-making.

Future Activities

Insights from the project have fed into the next Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme, particularly project ‘Aim NBS’ (JHI-D2-2), which deepens understanding of how to implement natural flood management within landscapes – and deliver other benefits – framed in terms of Nature-Based Solutions.   Insights from this project about landscape scale partnership working and governance have also fed into the project JHI-C3-1.  Lastly, the exploration of the role of the private sector and different knowledges, an emergent issue from this project, is being directly addressed in the project JHI-D5-3 ‘Galvanising change via natural capital’ ( )  Insights from this work have also informed our role in H2020 MERLIN, where Hutton leads on how to work with private sector actors to ‘upscale’ catchment Nature-Based Solutions across Europe.

Selected Outputs