Skip to content
Skip to navigation menu


New study of economic lifeblood in Welsh rivers

27 March 2012

The importance of river organisms to the function and economic value of Wales’ river ecosystems is to be investigated after a major government research award led by Cardiff University.

The investigation will range from small catchments around Llyn Brianne in central Wales to the whole Welsh uplands. The team will look at the role played by biodiversity in preserving the quality and wildlife of Welsh rivers and the many livelihoods that depend upon them.

Named DURESS (Diversity of Upland Rivers for Ecosystem Service Sustainability), the £3 million project forms part of the £13 million Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Sustainability (BESS) initiative. BESS is investigating the role of biodiversity in maintaining and improving ecosystem services – goods and functions provided by nature on which peoples’ lives and livelihoods depend.

At a time when rivers face critical challenges from changing land use and climate, DURESS aims to quantify how river organisms might regulate water quality, enhance fish production and underpin culturally valuable assets such as fishing or river birds

  • determine how river ecosystem services are affected by changes in land use and climate
  • address how resilient river ecosystems are to changes over time from months to decades

Wales was considered ideal for the project because its rivers are particularly highly valued as some of Britain’s cleanest. The country is extremely rich in the types of scientific data required and excellent river science is already well established. Cardiff University last year led the freshwater aspects of the UK Government National Ecosystem Assessment, making it an ideal candidate to take forward this research.

Researchers from the University’s School of Biosciences and Sustainable Places Research Institute will lead a team of around 30 scientists also including Lancaster University, Queen Mary University London and Aberystwyth; the British Trust for Ornithology; the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Forest Research and NHS Wales; and the specialist freshwater consultancy, APEM Ltd. The consortium is headed by Dr Isabelle Durance, senior research fellow in Cardiff’s Sustainable Places Research Institute, who spearheaded the proposal.

"We all need clean water, and the UK water infrastructure is valued at over £200 billion," said Dr Isabelle Durance. "Yet, we so often overlook the value of the catchments that supply our water. Even more, we overlook the processes carried out by billions of river organisms that together help to maintain water quality. These same organisms are part of an intricate web of life that fuels everything from Atlantic salmon to dippers and otters, yet we still know very little of how different parts of this web fit and function together."

The pioneering project has already won active support from a wide range of partners, including the Welsh Government, Environment Agency, Countryside Council for Wales, Forestry Commission, Dwr Cymru/Welsh Water, the RSPB and the Welsh Rivers’ Trusts (Afonydd Cymru). Welsh communities will also be consulted widely during the project.

Head of Cardiff School of Biosciences and Chair of the Biological Sciences panel for the Research Excellence Framework, Professor Ole Petersen said "Wales’ rivers are a major asset to its population. This is a vitally important ecological and environmental project which will have a bearing on people’s lives and livelihoods."

The project, which will start in May 2012, was won against fierce competition from around 30 other submissions of which only four were eventually funded.

Notes to Editor

Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University President Professor Sir Martin Evans.

Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Three major new Research Institutes, offering radical new approaches to neurosciences and mental health, cancer stem cells and sustainable places were announced by the University in 2010.

For further information, contact:

Stephen Rouse, Public Relations Office, Cardiff University. 029 2087 5596 e-mail:

Dr Isabelle Durance, Cardiff University, 07800774491, email:

Professor Steve Ormerod, Cardiff University, 02920875871, email:

For more information about Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Sustainability, contact Dave Raffaelli at or visit

Other contact details

Aberystwyth University: Dr Mike Christie,

APEM: Dr Nigel Milner,

British Trust for Ornithology: Dr David Noble,

Cardiff University: Dr Havard Prosser,

Centre for Ecology & Hydrology: Prof Bridget Emmett,

Forestry Research: Dr Tom Nisbet,

Lancaster University: Dr Nick Chappell,

Public Health Wales: Dr Rachel Chalmers, Press Office 029 2034 8755

Queen Mary University London: Dr Guy Woodward,