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RD 1.2.3 Water environment, resilience and adaptation to change

Image showing Catchment typologies of group behaviours in risk vs resillience re

The role of resilience is particularly crucial in managing the impacts of environmental changes (i.e. climate change, land use change) for example to prioritise mitigation measures to tackle greatest risks first. Aquatic ecosystems can experience multiple and interacting pressures and respond suddenly to environmental change, sometimes flipping to a new equilibrium. However, our understanding of resilience to environmental change is limited due to the difficulty in detecting ecological stability across pressure gradients at various spatio-temporal scales. Lack of knowledge on how key ecosystem functions relate to multiple stressors and drivers of change (notably climate & land use) therefore constrains effective resilience-based responses. This has implications for meeting current policy targets and prioritisation of adaptation actions to avoid future loss of function and service. Furthermore, regulatory measures have often been implemented in isolation rather than maximising potential synergies for maintaining resilient functioning ecosystems.

The need to evaluate resilience at national-level thus defines a high-level requirement to assess present and future risk and adaptive capacity for catchments across Scotland.

Aim of Research

To evaluate the capacity of water resources to adapt to changing environmental and socio-economic conditions, in order to maintain key functions, goods and services (resilience)

This RD addresses one of the fundamental research questions of the programme: How resilient are Scotland’s natural assets to climate change and other risks (invasive non-native species (INNS), pollution, etc.), and what are the key interventions to make them more resilient or to protect them from further harm? To do this, RD 1.2.3 considers components of natural and managed water systems (and their interactions), their responses to multiple stressors, aspects of risk vs resilience and control measures. Using case studies, we explore (a) the concept of multiple stressors acting on a water body now and under future scenarios; (b) the provision of goods and services through the water environment; (c) natural resilience of the water environment that we can characterise and utilise in managing change. This natural resilience may be utilised as an alternative or complement to conventional management approaches. We may also need to manage this resilience with engineering (e.g. flood defence; water treatment) and accompany it with actions to enhance community resilience.


Further information

General information on the Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes (SEFARI) and the Scottish Government funded Strategic Research Portfolio can be found on the SEFARI website.
Within this, there are webpages providing summary overview information for each of the Research Deliverables (RDs) within the Strategic Programme. The page for RD 1.2.3 Water environment resilience and adaption to change is available here and includes annual progress and highlights summaries, key outputs and links to case studies and key research staff.
To complement this, some additional information is provided below on specific project objectives within this RD.



  1. Catchment typologies of risk and resilience to enable better understanding of grouped behaviours in waterbody sensitivities and responses to multiple stressors and how we may combine catchment spatial data in meaningful ways related to functions. This work is a partnership between James Hutton Institute and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Edinburgh. For more information please contact Marc Stutter.
  2. Wastewater Effluents comprises three inter-linked projects:

    • Ecosystem resilience to effluents seeks to understand how different properties of catchments and their waterbodies relate to the sensitivity of the water quality and aquatic ecological responses to pollution from effluents (wastewater point sources and septic tanks), relative to diffuse pollution sources from other land use activities. We are also developing tools such as tracer approaches for septic tank effluents.   This work is a partnership between James Hutton Institute and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Edinburgh. For more information please contact Marc Stutter.
    • Sustainable treatments for trace contaminants looks for sorbent materials that have abilities to remove trace contaminants (pharmaceutical and personal care products, endocrine disruptor chemicals) and may be obtained from sustainable, or recycled sources to provide alternatives to conventional tertiary treatments for wastewaters.  For more information contact Zulin Zhang.
    • Novel circular systems for wastewater treatment uses experimental data with life cycle analysis modelling to examine systems for cleaning effluents and recycling of resources such as nutrients through coupling wastewater treatment with energy crop growth and anaerobic digestion technologies.  For more information contact Lisa Avery.
  3. Drinking waters will develop drinking water safety planning as a strategy to better understand environmental risks (quantity, chemical and microbiological quality) to the raw source waters from which drinking waters are drawn. As part of this tools are being developed for tracing presence and sources of key pathogen risks to drinking waters by staff at the Moredun Research Institute. For general information across the project contact Marc Stutter.
  4. River temperature and impacts for aquatic ecology (objective 4) works with wider stakeholders to better understand the evidence and driving factors for temperature change in Scotland’s river waters, in terms of the occurrence of temperature extremes and any impacts for aquatic ecology, such as Salmon. For more information contact Ina Pohle

The package of work is underpinned by our long-term catchment and experimental datasets in RD1.2.1 and closely aligned to mechanistic, empirical and predictive modelling work in RD1.2.2. These data will be used across the rest of Work Package 1.2 looking at sustainable management of the water environment.

Example outputs from the research to date include both technical studies describing science development and those putting the work in the context of our working with key stakeholders such as SEPA, Scottish Water, SNH, Forestry Commission Scotland, Fisheries Boards, Estates and others.

Project Information
Project Type: 
Active Project
SEFARI – Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research InstitutesSEFARI is the collective of six Scottish world-leading Research Institutes working across the spectrum of environment, land, food, agriculture and communities – all topics which affect how we live our lives, in Scotland and beyond.


Areas of Interest

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.