Riverine “forever chemicals”: utilizing citizen science to support nature-based solutions in rural catchments

(COOPER_UENV24ARIES) CASE studentship with Norfolk Rivers Trust

Riverine “forever chemicals”: utilizing citizen science to support nature-based solutions in rural catchments

(COOPER_UENV24ARIES) CASE studentship with Norfolk Rivers Trust

Project Description


Dr Richard Cooper, University of East Anglia – Contact me

Professor Kevin Hiscock, University of East Anglia, School of Environmental Sciences

Dr Rosalind  Bark, University of East Anglia, School of Environmental Sciences

Scientific background

The EU Water Framework Directive had an ambitious target to ensure all freshwater bodies achieved ‘good’ chemical status by 2015. However, by 2020, just 38% of rivers across the EU and 0% in England achieved this goal, due primarily to the presence of ubiquitous, persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances (uPBTs). Derived from products including plastics, flame retardants and waterproof coatings, of greatest concern are the “forever chemicals”, which primarily enter rivers through wastewater treatment works. Despite ecotoxicological evidence of the deleterious impacts of these long-lived hazardous substances upon both human health and aquatic organisms, sampling and analytical constraints mean environmental monitoring remains restricted to larger urban catchments and little is known about their occurrence in rural headwaters and the solutions available to mitigate their impact.

Research methodology

Focusing upon the rural River Wensum catchment, this project will integrate hydrological and analytical sciences to develop a novel quantitative evidence base on ‘forever chemicals’ in headwater environments. Collaborating with an established citizen scientist network, the candidate will conduct an extensive field and laboratory campaign to ascertain the abundance and composition of ‘forever chemicals’ in water, sediment and macrophyte samples collected across sites with contrasting wastewater pressures. This dataset will be coupled with a pioneering citizen science riverfly database to enhance understanding of the relationships between ‘forever chemicals’ and this key indicator of ecological health. Having ascertained the extent of the problem, the candidate will explore potential nature-based solutions, with a particular focus on the role constructed wetlands could play in mitigating ‘forever chemicals’ released from rural sewage treatment works.


Working with the Broadland Catchment Partnership and River Wensum citizen scientist network, candidate learning will be embedded within applied water resources management and provide exciting opportunities for engagement with the water industry, environmental regulators and NGOs. The candidate will gain extensive field and laboratory experience, whilst developing skills in coding and GIS for data analysis and evidence dissemination.

Person specification

Suitable candidates will have a degree in Environmental Sciences or related subject, have a keen interest in Catchment Science and a passion for field and laboratory work.


  • 1 Cooper RJ, Hiscock KM. 2023. Two decades of the EU Water Framework Directive: evidence of success and failure from a lowland arable catchment (River Wensum, UK). Science of the Total Environment 869, 161837
  • 2 Cooper RJ, Hiscock KM, et al. 2020. Temporal hydrochemical dynamics of the River Wensum, UK: Observations from long-term high-resolution monitoring (2011-2018). Science of the Total Environment 724, 138253Cooper RJ, Hiscock KM, et al. 2020. Temporal hydrochemical dynamics of the River Wensum, UK: Observations from long-term high-resolution monitoring (2011-2018). Science of the Total Environment 724, 138253
  • 3 Cooper RJ et al. 2020. Assessing the environmental and economic efficacy of two integrated constructed wetlands at mitigating eutrophication risk from sewage effluent. Water and Environment Journal, 1-10
  • 4 Evich et al. 2022. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in the environment. Science 375, 512. DOI: 10.1126/science.abg9065
  • 5 Banyoi S-M et al. 2022. The effects of exposure to environmentally relevant PFAS concentrations for aquatic organisms at different consumer trophic levels: systematic review and meta-analyses. Environmental Pollution 315, 120422

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2024. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 10th January 2024.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£18,622 p.a. for 2023/24) and research funding. International applicants are eligible for fully-funded ARIES studentships including fees. Please note however that ARIES funding does not cover additional costs associated with relocation to, and living in, the UK. We expect to award between 4 and 6 studentships to international candidates in 2024.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences, on top of all Research Costs associated with the project. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship follow the instructions at the bottom of the page or click the 'apply now' link.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.
  • ARIES funding is subject to UKRI terms and conditions. Postgraduate Researchers are expected to live within reasonable distance of their host organisation for the duration of their studentship. See https://www.ukri.org/publications/terms-and-conditions-for-training-funding/ for more information

Applications open

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