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Department of Geography

Masters by Research: Linking Catchment Scale Sources of River Pollution to Freshwater Habitats

The Department of Geography at Durham University is delighted to be able to offer a part-funded Masters by Research project (MRes) on linking catchment scale river pollution to freshwater habitats. Funding is available for tuition fees (home / EU rate) at Durham University for one year from October 2015. This project is in in partnership with the North York Moors National Park Authority and the Yorkshire Esk Rivers Trust and will besupervised by Professor Louise Bracken (Durham Geography), Professor Tim Burt (Durham Geography) and Simon Hirst (NYMNPA).

The aim of the one-year's MRes will be to build on existing data and knowledge to understand possible sources of water contamination that are likely to be detrimental to the health of the River Esk, North Yorkshire. Freshwater habitats are one of the planets most threatened ecosystems (Renofalt et al., 2010). Improving water quality and restoring natural conditions in the environment is therefore critical and is underlined by the introduction of regional, national and European legislation. Work has been ongoing in the River Esk catchment over the last 10 years to understand the relationship between hydrological processes and freshwater habitats, but also to establish collaborative working between practitioners, professionals and communities to improve the river habitat. Freshwater Pearl Mussels (FWPM) are under particular threat of extinction (Strayer, 2008; Ricciardi and Rasmussen, 1999)and areparticularly susceptible to nutrient, abiotic and wider hydrochemistry changes expressed in surface and groundwaters (Gee, 1991; 2008; Buss et al., 2009). They are in decline throughout their geographic range, afforded 'endangered' status on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red Data List, and are a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) 'priority species' (IUCN, 1991; Skinner et al., 2003; Bolland et al., 2010; Geist, 2010). Only 7 remaining English rivers support FWPM populations, of which the River Esk is one. It is thus vital to understand catchment wide threats to the FWPM.

The research will be undertaken using the following specific objectives:

  1. Collate all existing sediment and water quality data for the Esk catchment
  2. Undertake sediment fingerprinting in the Upper Esk catchment, to determine sources of sediment in the catchment from different sectors i.e. agriculture, forestry, road / verges etc.
  3. Undertake water quality monitoring to determine nutrient sources and the proportions coming from different sectors i.e. septic tanks, agriculture and wastewater infra-structure
  4. Use the SCIMAP model to predict potential sources of N, P, and fine sediment sources
  5. Explore the possibility of using the Source Apportionment-GIS (SAGIS) modelling framework and SIMulation of CATchments (SIMCAT) water quality model to better understand catchment scale processes resulting in poor habitats for the FWPM

Applicants should be outstanding graduates (2:1 or 1st class honours degree, or equivalent qualification in a relevant subject).

Informal enquiries

Informal enquiriesabout this project should be made to Professor Louise Bracken (

How to apply

To apply for this studentship you must submit all the following documents to by August 19th, 2015 at the latest:

  • CV
  • A short summary demonstrating how your skills and interests can contribute to the project (1 page)
  • Two references from academic referees
  • Copies of degree certificates / transcripts

The project will start in October 2015.