Can integrated constructed wetlands effectively mitigate nutrient pollution from small rural wastewater treatment plants?


Can integrated constructed wetlands effectively mitigate nutrient pollution from small rural wastewater treatment plants?


Project Description


Professor Kevin Hiscock (University of East Anglia, School of Environmental Sciences) – Contact me

Dr Richard Cooper, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

Dr Andy Rees, Plymouth Marine Laboratory


Project background

Nature-based solutions to environmental pressures are increasingly attractive as they also provide multi-functional benefits. In rural areas, sewage effluent discharges from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are widely recognised as a driver of eutrophication and failure to meet environmental quality standards. Small rural WWTPs have no regulatory requirement to reduce nutrient concentrations in effluent prior to discharge and, in this regard, integrated constructed wetlands (ICWs) have emerged as an alternative, nature-based solution for effluent treatment. Initial studies indicate ICWs could provide an environmentally sustainable and cost-effective form of nutrient mitigation, but major research questions remain concerning their seasonal effectiveness and long-term ability to capture and cycle nutrients to reliably replace conventional treatment.

Research methodology

Integrating hydrological, biogeochemical and analytical sciences, the research will provide a comprehensive evidence base with which to assess the effectiveness of ICWs at mitigating nutrient pollution released from small WWTPs. Initially focusing upon two ICWs installed at Anglian Water WWTPs in north Norfolk, the project design includes an 18-month field and laboratory campaign, analysing water, sediment, vegetation and gas samples collected at hourly-to-monthly resolution from across the ICWs. The data will be used to compile a complete nutrient balance for dissolved, particulate, organic and gaseous phases of nitrogen and phosphorus to improve understanding of pollutant mobilisation and fate. The spatial and temporal dynamics of nutrient concentrations and loads through the ICWs will be assessed to determine their capability to attenuate the impact of nutrient concentrations in downstream surface water courses.


The successful individual will gain extensive field and laboratory experience, including training in the operation of automatic water samplers, a range of laboratory methods for the analysis of nutrient species and dissolved gases and the use of programming software to interrogate biogeochemical datasets. Collaboration with Anglian Water will embed this exciting studentship within water resources management and policy and provide opportunities for public engagement with catchment partnerships.

Person specification

We seek an enthusiastic individual with a degree in Physical Geography, Environmental Sciences, Environmental Chemistry or a related subject who has a keen interest in Catchment Science with a passion for field and laboratory work.


  • Cooper, R.J., Hawkins, E., Locke, J., Thomas, T. & Tosney, J. (2020) Assessing the environmental and economic efficacy of two integrated constructed wetlands at mitigating eutrophication risk from sewage effluent. Water and Environment Journal 34, 669-678.
  • Cooper, R.J., Warren, R.J., Clarke, S.J. & Hiscock, K.M. (2022) Evaluating the impacts of contrasting sewage treatment methods on nutrient dynamics across the River Wensum catchment, UK. Science of the Total Environment 804, 150146.
  • Roberts, E.J. & Cooper, R.J. (2018) Riverbed sediments buffer phosphorus concentrations downstream of sewage treatment works across the River Wensum catchment, UK. Journal of Soils and Sediments 18, 2107-2116.
  • Almuktar, S.A.A.A.N., Abed, S.N. & Scholz, M. (2018) Wetlands for wastewater treatment and subsequent recycling of treated effluent: a review. Environmental Science and Pollution Research 25, 23595-23623.
  • Hama-Aziz, Z.Q., Hiscock, K.M. & Cooper, R.J., 2017. Dissolved nitrous oxide (N2O) dynamics in agricultural field drains and headwater streams in an intensive arable catchment. Hydrological Processes, 31, 1371-1381.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2023. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 11th January 2023.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£17,668 p.a. for 2022/23) 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.
  • 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.

Applications are open

Apply now