Eleanor Starkey

‌‌‌‌Eleanor Starkey - eleanor.starkey@ncl.ac.uk


PhD Title:

Community-Based Monitoring and Modelling for Catchment Management and Restoration within the UK


PhD Project Details:

Hydrological catchments are complex systems which need to be monitored over time in order to characterise their behaviour on a local level, model, implement mitigation measures and meet policy targets.  However, data is often inadequate within rural areas and local knowledge is not routinely harvested.  Long-term evidence is required to provide stakeholders with confidence if ‘working with natural processes’ is the way forward (Starkey and Parkin, 2015).


Although the terminology varies in the literature and in practice (e.g. volunteer monitoring and citizen science), community-based monitoring is a form of participatory action research which encourages the public to observe their local environment (Roy et al., 2012).  This innovative approach has been implemented across other environmental disciplines but it has not been fully investigated within catchment science, mainly due to data quality concerns (Buytaert et al., 2014).  However, this technique has the potential to offer a timely and low-cost solution to mass data collection in catchments, whilst offering various social benefits.


As a result, this PhD project seeks to address the following research questions:

  • Can communities monitor their local catchment using a low-cost citizen science approach?
  • Is community-based data reliable and is it meaningful to ‘professionals’?
  • Can community-based data be used to model and support the catchment management process?
  • Is a community-based approach to catchment management sustainable?


The rural 42km2 Haltwhistle Burn catchment in Northumberland is acting as the main case study site for this project where a monitoring programme has been implemented.  ‘River Watch’ volunteers have been trained to monitor various catchment parameters and issues over time using simple and low-cost techniques.  These observations (e.g. Images 1 and 2) are being used to characterise and visualise the catchment, model flood events, identify locations suitable for natural flood management and understand the benefits of this type of data.



Buytaert, W., Zulkafli, Z., Grainger, S., Acosta, L., Alemie, T.C., Bastiaensen, J., De Bièvre, B., Bhusal, J., Clark, J. Dewulf, A., Foggin, M., Hannah, D. M., Hergarten, C., Isaeva, A., Karpouzoglou, T., Pandeya, B., Paudel, D., Sharma, K., Steenhuis, T. S. Tilahun, S., Van Hecken, G., Zhumanova, M. (2014) ‘Citizen Science in Hydrology and Water Resources: Opportunities for Knowledge Generation, Ecosystem Service Management, and Sustainable Development’, Frontiers in Earth Science 2(26) pp. 1-21.


CaBA (2015) Haltwhistle Burn Citizen Science. Available at: http://www.catchmentbasedapproach.org/best-practice/use-data/haltwhistle-burn


Roy, H. E., Pocock, M. J. O., Preston, C. D., Roy, D. B., Savage, J., Tweddle, J. C. and Robinson, L. D. (2012) ‘Understanding Citizen Science & Environmental Monitoring, Final Report on behalf of UK-EOF’, NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and Natural History Museum.


Starkey, E and Parkin, G. (2015) Community Involvement in UK Catchment Management. Marlow: Foundation for Water Research. Available at: http://www.fwr.org/Catchment/frr0021.pdf.



(Image 1 - Example of river levels and rainfall data collected by members of the Haltwhistle Burn community to date (2014/2015). Photographs and videos collected help volunteers to interpret graphical information and understand their catchment’s response over time)



(Image 2 - Community-based observations are extremely useful during and after heavy rainfall. Photographs here show natural flood management features ‘slowing the flow’ above the town of Haltwhistle. Without these community-based observations, evidence confirming their performance would not be available)



Dr Geoff Parkin

Dr Paul Quinn

Dr Andy Large




Tyne Rivers Trust



This PhD project has also supported the ‘Haltwhistle Burn Total Catchment Approach’ project, a wider ‘Catchment Restoration Funds’ (CRF) initiative led by Tyne Rivers Trust and funded by Defra.  The community-based monitoring aspect has provided a legacy framework to the CRF project as it is encouraging locals to monitor the Haltwhistle Burn catchment beyond the lifetime of the project.