Funding awarded to UWE Bristol to monitor the health of UK rivers

Media Relations Team, 13 March 2024

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The River Severn wends its way through open countryside Adobe Stock image under licence
The River Severn wends its way through open countryside (Adobe Stock, under licence)

UWE Bristol is one of 13 UK research organisations to receive a share of an initial £7 million investment from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Defra to improve capability for monitoring the natural environment.

The Innovation in Environmental Monitoring programme, investing £12 million* in total, has been designed to support UK academic institutions, SMEs and large companies in their development of novel monitoring technologies and systems-based approaches, driving UK growth and commercial opportunity in this sector through the development of new products, processes, and services. 

UWE Bristol has been allocated nearly £460,000 for its two-year project, which will bring together expertise from across the university in areas of artificial intelligence, sensor science, microbiology, and environmental sciences to implement new sensor technology for measuring the health of UK rivers.

High quality environmental monitoring is essential for meeting environmental goals in the UK and worldwide, underpinning government policy, emerging green finance markets and driving sustainability in the private sector. Monitoring enables the tracking of the natural environment and measures the success of interventions that tackle climate change and detect natural disasters.

The funding announced by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) today, Wednesday 13 March, will focus on projects using new technologies for monitoring the state of UK waterways, habitats, soil and air, in particular:

  • Biodiversity and invasive species
  • Water quality
  • Soil health
  • Greenhouse gas emissions, especially methane

UWE Bristol project lead Professor Darren Reynolds said:

"Working with colleagues from the Centre for Machine Vision (Professor Lyndon Smith), Centre for Research in Biosciences (Dr Robin Thorn), The Rivers Trust and Chelsea Technologies, represents a fantastic opportunity to make a real difference to the health of our rivers.

"Using state-of-the-art sensor technology together with river conservation expertise and world leading research in water and data sciences we will, for the first time, develop a sensing network that detects organic pollution from sewage and also estimates river health. I am so thrilled and proud that UKRI have given us this opportunity."

Nationally, the investment will enable researchers and innovators to harness the potential of new sensing and monitoring technologies, artificial intelligence, and high-performance computing to create new information services for research, government and businesses.

The projects will draw on UK science developments to deliver new sensing systems and monitoring approaches. For example, audio monitoring to detect invasive insect species, sampling DNA from the air to monitor biodiversity, and new passive sensor technologies to detect water pollutants.   

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: 

“This funding will support our world-leading scientists develop new capabilities for understanding and monitoring the natural environment and allow us to develop better quality evidence faster and more efficiently – in turn helping us create a cleaner and greener environment. 

“There is also terrific potential for any successful environmental monitoring products and services to be exported internationally, supporting nature recovery globally and boosting the reputation of the UK scientific community.”

Science Minister Andrew Griffith said:

“This government has a world leading track record on a cleaner environment. This £12 million backing for research will unlock game-changing tools to track biodiversity and monitor water quality, which are key to those efforts. Not only will these technologies help us protect the environment, but this support will boost the businesses behind them, by bringing these tools to market sooner.”

Dr Iain Williams, Director of Strategic Partnerships for NERC, said:

“This investment by NERC and Defra will help to deliver a step-change in environmental monitoring, modelling and decision-making. It supports UKRI’s ambition to help businesses to grow through the development and commercialisation of new products, processes, and services, supported by an outstanding research and innovation ecosystem.”

Innovations funded through this work aim to improve the quality and sustainability of sensing capability, whilst reducing costs supporting the delivery of Defra’s key commitments, including the 25 Year Environment Plan.

*Further funding from Innovate UK to support this programme will be awarded soon.

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