Analysis, occurrence, fate and effects of flubendazole in moorland river catchments


Dr Paul Kay, Dr Richard Ansell and Dr David Baines (Game and Wildlife Conservancy Trust). Contact Dr Paul Kay to discuss this project further informally.

Project description

Moorland areas are very important worldwide and are found, for example, in the British Isles, Russia, Canada, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Tasmania, Japan and South America (Holden et al., 2007). The need to conserve these environments is exemplified by the fact that many have been given national and international conservation designations to protect habitats and priority species. In addition to biodiversity, they are internationally important for water supply, carbon storage, agriculture, forestry and tourism (Thompson et al., 1995; Holden et al., 2007; Curtis et al., 2014).

Red grouse sport shooting is regularly practiced on moorlands and man-made chemicals have been used increasingly on grouse moors since the mid-1980s to maintain grouse populations because parasitic nematode worms (Trichostrongylus tenuis) reduce both breeding success and adult survival. This is done either via medicated grit or dosing of captured birds (Newborn and Foster, 2002). The use of grit containing the anthelmintic (worming) chemical flubendazole is widespread (Ceballos et al., 2012) and its addition to moorlands for grouse to eat (Figure 1) may release flubendazole into the environment as could excretion of unabsorbed residues by the birds; 50 % of the administered dose is excreted unchanged (Kreuzig et al., 2007; Weiss et al., 2008).

The potential impacts of these residues on the environment are currently unstudied (Watson and Moss, 2008; Davies et al., 2016; Thompson et al., 2016; Sotherton et al., 2017). This project will provide robust data describing the presence, fate and effects of flubendazole in moorland catchments. Only a few previous studies have attempted to measure flubendazole in the environment (e.g. Kreuzig et al., 2007) and none of these have dealt with organic-rich moorland soils and water which pose particular analytical challenges given that the peat and organomineral soils found on moorlands are excellent adsorbents of organic compounds.

The increased levels of organic matter limit extractability and it is necessary to remove naturally occurring organic molecules like lignins, pigments and phenols in order to reduce interferences during analysis. We have already found that molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) work better than commercially available extraction cartridges for analysing flubendazole. MIPs have previously proved to be very valuable for the selective extraction of test substances from samples (Horvat et al., 2012).

This project will optimise the MIP for selectivity, binding strength and capacity and transfer the analytical method to our recently purchased Liquid Chromatography-Time of Flight-Mass Spectrometry (LC-TOF-MS) instrument, which should afford further increases in sensitivity. The method produced would be the state of the art for analysis of flubendazole (and other anthelmintics) in organic-rich environments. The method will be used to analyse soil and water samples collected across moorland environments for flubendazole and in controlled fate experiments. Effects experiments will be undertaken on soil mesofauna and freshwater invertebrates.

Objectives: The overall aim of the project is to understand whether the use of flubendazole to medicate grouse in moorland catchments is leading to the presence of this emerging pollutant in soil and water. The specific objectives are to:

  1. Improve the analysis of flubendazole in moorland soils and water using molecularly imprinted polymers
  2. Measure the occurrence of flubendazole in moorland soils and water
  3. Determine the fate of flubendazole in moorland catchments
  4. Assess the potential effects of flubendazole on relevant organisms Potential for high impact outcome Emerging contaminants in the environment is currently a particularly hot topic which makes this project of potentially very high impact.

There is also considerable debate as to whether current grouse moor management regimes are environmentally sustainable (Thompson et al. 2016, Sotherton et al. 2017). We therefore expect publication in top journals and considerable media interest.


Ceballos, L. et al. (2012). BMC Vet. Med., 8, 71 Curtis, C. et al. (2014). Ecol. Indic., 37, 412 Davies, G. et al. (2016) Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 371 EC. (2001). Directive 2001/82/EC Holden, J. (2007). Earth Sci. Rev., 82, 75 Horvat, AJM et al. (2012). TrAC, 31, 61 Kay, P. et al. (2004). Environ. Toxicol. Chem., 23(5), 1136 Kreuzig R et al. (2007). Clean, 35(5), 488 Newborn, D. and Foster, R. (2002). J. Appl. Ecol., 39, 909 Oh SJ et al. (2006). Environ. Toxicol. Chem., 25(8), 2221 Sotherton, N. et al. (2017) Ibis 159, 693 Thompson, D. (1995). Biol. Conservation., 71, 163 Thompson, P. et al. (2016) Ibis, 158, 446 Watson, A. and Moss, R. (1998). Grouse. Collins, London Weiss K et al. (2008). Chemosphere, 72, 1292

Key benefits

The successful candidate will benefit from inter-disciplinary training in analytical chemistry, hydrology and ecology as part of water@leeds. Training at Leeds deals fully with the elements described in the Joint Research Centre statement on skills training for research students. PhD students take modules provided by the staff development unit (e.g. starting your PhD, small group teaching) and a 15-week faculty-training course (covering elements such as planning, critical reading and writing, oral presentations, writing research papers). Students present results and receive constructive feedback from peers in a Research Support Group, from colleagues in water@leeds, and at a university postgraduate research day. An additional important part of the training will be to attend national and international conferences to present results and gain feedback. The student will be encouraged to write and submit papers for publication during the project.

Entry requirements

Applications are invited from candidates with or expecting a minimum of a UK upper second class honours degree (2:1), and/or a Master's degree in a suitable discipline, such as geography, environmental science or chemistry. A background in hydrology, water management and chemistry would be useful, although experience will be developed during the course of the project. A start date of 1 Oct 2019 is envisaged.

If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University’s minimum English Language requirements.

How to apply

Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the university's website. Please state clearly in the research information section that the PhD you wish to be considered for is the ‘Analysis, occurrence, fate and effects of flubendazole in moorland river catchments' as well as Dr Paul Kay as your proposed supervisor.

We welcome scholarship applications from all suitably-qualified candidates, but UK black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers are currently under-represented in our Postgraduate Research community, and we would therefore particularly encourage applications from UK BME candidates. All scholarships will be awarded on the basis of merit.

If you require any further information about the application process please contact Jacqui Manton e: