This project uses an ecosystem services approach to investigate and develop integrated management and policy solutions for rivers and the land that surrounds them. It is part of an ambitious multi-national programme to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Dates2019 - 2021
  • SponsorNERC – Towards a Sustainable Earth (NE/S01232X/1)
  • Funded£243,186 – NERC
  • PartnersPeking University, China; National Institute of Technology, Hamirpur, India; National Institute of Technology, Karnataka, India; CSK Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University, India.

Rivers and the land that surrounds them are focal points of economic activity and development in most countries. They are essential to humans for water supply, agriculture, transport and energy; hold significant importance socially and culturally; and have critically important ecological habitats that sustain high biodiversity. However, they are rarely managed in a holistic manner. Institutional boundaries, socio-economic drivers and barriers, and complex interactions in environmental processes limit severely our ability to integrate policies across the Land-River-Interface (LRI). As a result, management decisions often have unintended social, economic, cultural and environmental consequences locally and further upstream/downstream in the catchment. The aim of the project is to investigate how management and policy decisions cause trade-offs for people and the environment at different locations and times to support the design of integrated solution.

Impact and findings

The ecosystem services delivered by a holistically-managed LRI would support the attainment of multiple, interdependent Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
1) No poverty – supporting rural livelihoods by mitigating soil erosion and flooding
2) Zero hunger – sustainable food production, agroforestry, soil erosion
6) Clean water and sanitation – pollutant trapping and bioremediation
7) Affordable and clean energy – modern biomass and hydropower energy generation
11) Sustainable cities and communities –risk reduction; safeguarding cultural heritage
13) Climate Action – land-based climate mitigation, afforestation
15) Life on Land – maintaining habitats and biodiversity.

The aim of the project is to support the design of integrated and sustainable policy and practice solutions for the LRI that enhance multiple SDGs through investigation and modelling of the spatially-explicit social, economic and environmental trade-offs to LRI management under different socio-economic pathways and climate scenarios. The research is co-designed with a range of key stakeholders (local farmers, water management boards, regional and national government) within the case study catchment, the Beas-Sutlej, a transnational river in the Himalayan region whose land, river and water drive the economy of the region (hydropower, irrigated agriculture).

The research is composed of three packages of work. First, a set of research activities are being undertaken to characterise the social, economic, and environmental interactions operating in the LRI of the case study catchment (WP 1). An institutional analysis is investigating the top-down barriers and enablers on integrated LRI management, and social research (interviews and surveys) will explore the bottom-up controls. Then, this improved understanding is being employed to develop a whole systems representation of the LRI by merging terrestrial ecosystem service, catchment hydrological and water resource modelling (WP 2). The modelling will provide improved, spatially-expl1icit estimates of the land- and river-based ecosystem services that support attainment of the target SDGs, which is being used in the final set of activities to test policy and practice solutions under different future socio-economic and climate scenarios (WP 3).

social economic environmental trade offs

The LRI will continue to be a key area for economic development and intensification in the future. By understanding and predicting the nature and location of social-economic-environmental trade-offs to management, integrated solutions can be co-designed with stakeholders for its land, water and river resources to ensure future resilience and minimise unintended consequences in the human-environment system.

social economic environmental trade offs social economic environmental trade offs