NERC appoints new UK Freshwater Quality Champions for five-year programme

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has appointed Freshwater Quality Champions to lead a new programme that will study the water quality of UK rivers.

Professor Pippa Chapman and Professor Joseph Holden, both from the University of Leeds, will lead the five-year Understanding changes in quality of UK freshwaters programme.

Research funded by the programme will address a significant gap in our understanding of how pollutants enter, transform and interact within rivers, and with the ecosystems that rivers support. 

Understanding river ecosystems 

Professor Pippa Chapman is a leading soil scientist and biogeochemist and Professor Joseph Holden is a leading hydrologist and Director of the water@leeds interdisciplinary research centre.

Their expertise will help to bring together researchers, practitioners and policymakers to deliver research that will improve understanding of the major sources, pathways, transformations and interactions of pollutants in freshwater ecosystems. 

Professor Pippa Chapman 

Pippa Chapman is a soil scientist and Chair of Biogeochemistry at the University of Leeds.  Her research activities have focused on effects of land-use change and agricultural management practices on soil functions, nutrient cycling, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and water quality.  

Pippa was recently invited to present research at the inaugural UK Agriculture Partnership launch, which focussed on improving water quality across the farming landscape.  

The research was carried out in collaboration with:  

  • Welsh Water 

  • Yorkshire Water 

  • Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)  

  • the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Northern Ireland

She is also a member of the northeast England Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force and Defra’s Environmental Land Management Expertise Group. 

Professor Joseph Holden 

Joseph Holden is founding Director of water@leeds, one of the largest interdisciplinary university-based water research centres in the world. The research centre, based at the University of Leeds, brings together expertise from across the physical, biological, chemical, social and economic sciences and engineering as well as the arts, to tackle water challenges.  

Joseph sits on the Government’s water targets expert advisory group and a number of other panels including science advisory groups for MS Amlin and SSE, the latter of which he chairs. 

Leading freshwater research 

Currently, Pippa and Joseph work together as leaders of the £6M NERC Integrated Catchment Solutions Programme (iCASP) which brings together academics and experts from organisations active in catchment management to find ways to use existing environmental science more effectively - including coming up with solutions to water-related problems - to deliver impact to maximise resilient growth and social benefit. 

Joseph is Director of iCASP (under NERC’s Regional Impact from Science of the Environment scheme), and Pippa is the iCASP champion for freshwater quality. 

In a joint statement, the Freshwater Champions said:  

“We are very excited to be taking on the champion role for this essential NERC research programme that ultimately seeks to improve UK freshwater quality. We need research to inform radical changes to the way we manage the UK’s integrated land-water systems in order to ensure our freshwaters are more resilient to climate and land-use change and other emerging stressors that influence water quality.  

This ambitious research programme will mobilise the UK’s world-leading research teams and connect them directly with those in a position to shape and influence how we manage our landscapes and water systems to enhance freshwater quality.

Further Information

For more information about the programme please visit the Understanding changes in quality of UK freshwaters programme page on the UKRI website.