Monitoring the Impact of Green Infrastructure using Citizen Science in Urban and Rural Catchments


Both urban and rural environments face a range of pressures and impacts as a result of extreme weather events. Flooding, as a natural hazard, has produced the highest economic losses in Europe over the past decade (Davis and Naumann, 2017). The north-east of England is no exception; the region has experienced numerous flood events over recent years, including the record-breaking winter 2015/16 storms and many localised summer flash flood events. Multiple pressures are also exacerbated by climate change, a topic which the public are aware of, and engaged with, more than ever before.

With this in mind, managing our water environment has evolved over the past decade; green infrastructure (GI) measures, such as sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) and natural flood management (NFM), are being used more widely across the UK and internationally. For example, green roofs, living walls, swales and wetlands are now common to the planning process (Figure 1), and ‘greening up’ urban spaces is no longer unusual (CIRIA, 2015; Walsh et al., 2018). In rural locations, measures such as leaky barriers, attenuation ponds and river restoration are also being used alongside traditional flood defence schemes to alleviate catchment pressures (Environment Agency, 2018).

Although GI techniques have the potential to offer multiple benefits, the evidence-base is still inadequate, thus prevents widespread uptake. As GI encourages natural processes, they interact with complex physical processes which complicates how to best monitor and quantify them. Well-established hydrological and meteorological monitoring methods do exist, and are used to understand and manage processes, but formal monitoring stations are still scarce or inaccessible. Scientists, Engineers and the wider GI community lack access to high spatial and temporal resolution datasets which are required for stakeholder engagement and to make informed decisions. For example, local river trusts are being tasked with designing and implementing GI, but struggle to support before, during and after monitoring.

Citizen Science has enabled the general public to work alongside scientists and researchers to co-produce new knowledge across a range of environmental disciplines, especially biodiversity and conservation (Roy et al., 2012). The growth in more readily available and low-cost technologies, such as smartphones, social media and the internet itself, is allowing citizen science initiatives to grow rapidly. Citizen science and wider community-based involvement have been implemented in the water management sector (Figure 2; Buytaert et al., 2014; Starkey and Parkin, 2015; Starkey et al., 2017), and current policy frameworks welcome the involvement of people. However, robust monitoring methods are yet to be developed to directly support GI projects.

This PhD project aims to co-develop and test a GI citizen science monitoring toolkit which uses cost-effective and innovative citizen science techniques. The candidate will work alongside staff at the National Green Infrastructure Facility (Newcastle University), Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), Tyne Rivers Trust (TRT) and urban and rural community groups across the north east of England.

Click on an image to expand

Image Captions

Figure 1 Example of SuDS located in an urban space
Figure 2 River Watch Photo Post used to promote citizen science


This project will use a variety of desk-based, stakeholder engagement and hydrometric fieldwork techniques to achieve the following:
• Review traditional methods currently used to monitor GI and critique their success and failures;
• Review of existing cross-discipline citizen science monitoring methods which can be adapted and applied to the field of water management and GI;

• Engage with at least four (preferably two urban, two rural) community groups and relevant partners on the ground where GI projects are active/proposed;
• Working closely with the CASE Partner in co-designing a GI citizen science monitoring toolkit with local communities and evaluate the quality of datasets collected;
• Investigate and test options for visualising GI datasets effectively;
• Report on the effectiveness of GI measures and make recommendations for future monitoring campaigns, and GI designs;

• Create an open access guidance document describing the full monitoring toolkit developed which can be used on the ground by non-academic stakeholders.

The methodology will expand upon various recent/current community-based and GI projects in Haltwhistle and Acomb (Northumberland), the Ouseburn (Newcastle upon Tyne), Tyne Estuary, Loch Leven (Scotland) and at the National Green Infrastructure Facility (NGIF). The PhD will also have access to NGIF’s indoor and outdoor laboratory when developing monitoring techniques. Due to the nature of the work, opportunistic case study sites may also arise.

Project Timeline

Year 1

Year one (Oct-2020 to Sept-2021): Carry out an in-depth literature review, stakeholder mapping and develop a stakeholder engagement plan. Engage with all relevant stakeholders and community groups, and co-design GI monitoring techniques. Design suitable monitoring strategies and launch all monitoring campaigns. Attend relevant training courses (e.g. NERC Community for Engaging Environments, TRT/CEH citizen science), steering groups and UK conference.

Year 2

Year two (Oct-2021 to Sept-2022): Ongoing stakeholder engagement, data collection and analysis. Visualisation techniques and tools will also be developed. Present results at the CEH Edinburgh office and relevant UK conference e.g. British Hydrological Society, River Restoration Centre.

Year 3

Year three (Oct-2022 to Sept-2023):
Update and add to findings following receipt of new citizen science data. Evaluate the performance of GI measures and the effectiveness of the citizen science techniques. A substantial amount of time will be spent writing the thesis and a journal paper. The candidate will also present results at a relevant international conference (e.g. European Geosciences Union or European Urban Green Infrastructure).

Year 3.5

Year four (Oct-2023 to March-2024 – six months only): Complete the thesis write up and submit. Preparation for viva. Feedback to the stakeholders/community groups and partners involved.

& Skills

This PhD will provide a range of exciting cross-disciplinary training opportunities to support the project itself, and to develop the student’s broader early career researcher skills. Those more specific to the project include:

• Knowledge of water management techniques (GI) and generated benefits/impacts;
• Hands-on fieldwork and data collection;
• Stakeholder engagement and involvement;
• Appreciation of real-world problems, and stakeholder concerns, priorities and motivations;
• Participatory research methods, citizen science and ethics;
• Data sharing and management techniques, statistical analyses, and programming/coding;
• Effective data visualisation techniques.

The student will develop technical and generic skills from a wide range of career development workshops, and will have the opportunity to support academic staff during teaching and demonstrating activities relevant to the PhD. Additional training opportunities will also be available through TRT and CEH.

References & further reading

Buytaert et al. (2014) ‘Citizen science in hydrology and water resources: opportunities for knowledge generation, ecosystem service management, and sustainable development’. Frontiers in Earth Science 2 (26), pp. 1-21.

CEH (2019) ‘Public Engagement’.

CIRIA (2015) The SuDS Manual. Available at:

Davis and Naumann (2017) Making the Case for Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems as a Nature-Based Solution to Urban Flooding.

Environment Agency (2018) Working with natural processes to reduce flood risk. Available at:

Newcastle University (2019) Haltwhistle Burn. Available at:

Roy et al. (2012) ‘Understanding Citizen Science & Environmental Monitoring. Final Report on behalf of UK-EOF’. NERC Centre for Ecology & hydrology and Natural History Museum.

Starkey and Parkin (2015) Community involvement in UK catchment management. Foundation for Water Research. Available at:

Starkey et al. (2017) ‘Demonstrating the value of community-based (‘citizen science’) observations for catchment modelling and characterisation’. Journal of Hydrology, 548, pp. 801-817.

Tyne Rivers Trust (2019)

Walsh et al. (2018) Putting green infrastructure to the test for urban catchments. Water Industry Journal, (8), 48-49.

Further Information

Dr Claire Walsh: +44 (0)191 208 6447.

Dr Eleanor Starkey: +44 (0)191 208 7273.

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