Catchment Futures – Project Report

The project was led by researchers at the Kent Interdisciplinary Centre for Spatial Studies, University of Kent working in conjunction with Southern Water Services Ltd – the project’s sponsor – and the Medway Catchment Partnership, a key beneficiary of this research. More generally, the research was intended to inform the development of integrated approaches to shaping the future of water catchments.

Executive Summary

  • In 2019, only 2 out of 58 water bodies in the Medway Catchment received a good status. All 58 received a fail for chemical status. This study introduces a transdisciplinary methodology for exploring the challenges facing catchment management in the UK, using land-use as a lens through which to explore the hydrosocial futures of the Medway Catchment. We observe that catchment management in the UK is focused on the water supply chain and the future is often approached through static plans. We introduce the concept of Catchment Capabilities to enable an understanding of the interactions between land use and the array of value chains water is a part of, not simply an end product of. As part of this, we have developed Catchment Futures as an aid in navigating Catchment Capabilities, rather than the delivery of an illusory destination.
  • The study is led by a team of researchers from the Kent Interdisciplinary Centre for Spatial Studies which combines expertise in land use mapping and modelling, with stakeholder engagement and narrative creation. It is based on work that was conducted through feedback with Southern Water Services Ltd and the Medway Catchment Partnership, bringing together industry and stakeholder expertise. The strength of this approach is the combination of knowledge from different scales, perspectives, and interests to holistically explore the hydrosocial futures of a catchment.
  • The methodology starts with scenario creation involving semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders in the Medway Catchment as well as document analysis. A preliminary set of future scenarios are workshopped and refined with stakeholders. Following this, scenarios are translated into explicit descriptions of interacting drivers and processes as they unfold under each scenario. These are integrated into a land use/land cover change and hydrological modelling pipeline to link, map and quantify land-use, climate, water quality and water quantity under the different scenarios. The implications of alternative hydrosocial futures in the catchment are then assessed against sustainability objectives co-defined with local stakeholders. Finally, the protocol and code for scenario creation, modelling and visualisation in analogous catchment settings is elaborated.
  • This approach means the catchment is not reducible to water quality, water quantity or secondary environmental benefits found along the water supply chain. Instead, we consider the social, economic, and institutional components of a catchment from a generational perspective. In doing so we observe that catchment stakeholders can choose to engage in a trade-off between maintaining water quality, water quantity and secondary environmental benefits versus improving water equality, housing equality, access to green space and public health. Where choosing the former means stakeholders should focus on individual natural solutions like restoring a section of a river funded through philanthropy (broadly conceived). Or choosing the latter means recognizing dependence on a national shift in priorities toward resource-intensive solutions for the explicit improvement of local food production and reduction of social inequality, such as increasing public investment in sustainable intensive farming. However, the extent of the small benefits potentially achieved from either one of these choices is vastly outweighed by the benefits that could emerge if stakeholders coordinate transparently and inclusively in order to adapt land use across the catchment.
  • In sum, this study was an exploration of the hydrosocial futures of a catchment and the implications of catchment-wide changes and continuities in land-use under different scenarios. Identifying which changes at the land-use level, and their associated scenarios, are in effect the solutions to hydrological challenges.

Extended Summary

  • The goal of Catchment Futures is to explore plausible futures for the Medway Catchment and help decision-makers to be better placed to face the different ways the future may unfold.
  • Catchment Futures has two specific objectives: to examine how land cover and land use in the Medway Catchment may change given certain assumptions about the future; and to assess the implications of land cover and use change, given objectives for the water environment.
  • The project builds on the idea that creating viable water futures relies on understanding and assessing processes of land use change and their interactions with the water environment. At the core of our approach are Catchment Capabilities, the vision that ecological assets – at the heart of land-water interactions – can be harnessed to build resilient and sustainable hydrosocial futures.
  • Understanding complex catchments such as the Medway calls for a transdisciplinary approach. Thus, we draw concepts and methodologies from geography, anthropology, landscape ecology, hydrology, and sustainability science to understand and explore hydrosocial futures of the Medway.
  • Empirically, the project is based on a set of four interlocking work packages (Figure 1), three of which are co-developed with stakeholders (scenario creation, scenario disaggregation, impact assessment), and one based on stakeholder input (modelling and visualisation).
Figure 1. Schematic representation of the empirical process of Catchment Futures
  • Initially, four exploratory scenarios were created through document analysis and semi-structured interviews with catchment stakeholders (n=25). This generated the initial narrative form of the scenarios and encompassed, in a concise form, four different plausible ‘worlds’. Thus, the scenarios are driven by a common set of processes that emerge differently for each scenario: responses to climate change, population, agriculture, land ownership, biodiversity conservation, mode of behaviour and infrastructure. Furthermore, based on the interview material and document analysis, we created a scenario framework along two axes of uncertainty (Figure 2): the hardness of the solution for the water environment (e.g. planting more trees as a standard part of agricultural practice versus building a desalination plant); and depth of coordination at the catchment level. We thus elaborated four scenarios: Soft-Siloed, Soft-Coordinated, Hard-Siloed, and Hard-Coordinated (Figure 3).
Figure 2. The scenarios’ axes of uncertainty
  • In a subsequent step, the four narrative scenarios were disaggregated with input from a stakeholder workshop into explicit causal networks of interactive drivers and processes (Figure 3). A causal network, centred on land-use and land-cover changes and practices, was created for each scenario, following a series of consultations with stakeholders. The key outcome of this work package was to convert the qualitative data collected so far, through document analysis and interviews with stakeholders, into a format that could be used as an input for land use modelling (WP3) and assessment of each scenario (WP4). A work-in-progress side-project that emerged from this was the framework for an online futures encyclopaedia. This involved design a way to populate the futurescape through these scenarios in a publicly accessible digital format that could be read and added to by public users. In doing so, (i) setting up a means for the futurescape to be continually updated and adapted as we move into the future, guided by the compass of scenarios, (ii) educating non-expert users and the public in modelling, (iii) and increasing the efficacy of the modelling process by making it accessible to different forms of expertise rather than just presenting directive conclusions.
  • The four narrative and causal network scenarios were then elaborated into four different land use/ land cover (LULC) futures. Using a LULC modelling framework called ‘Conversion of Land Use and its Effects’ and using R as a simulation platform and a project-customised version of the lulcc package (Moulds et al. 2015), we simulated four LULC maps for 2040, one for each scenario (Figure 4). To create the different LULC maps, we created different sets of LULC change simulation parameters, drawn from causal maps and narrative scenarios. Three main different parameters were drawn that differentiated the three scenarios: demand for each LULC class in the future, transition matrices between the LULC classes, and LULC class elasticity. Thus, we ended with four different maps, each representing LULC in the different hydrosocial futures developed through interaction with catchment stakeholders.
Figure 3. Scenario specific processes
  • Based on these maps, in order to assess the impact of the scenarios against certain sustainability objectives directly reflected in the maps, we calculated a number of indicators related to LULC for each scenario: green space in residential areas, woodland in residential areas and landscape heterogeneity in agricultural areas as a function of the presence of woodland and other natural areas. The SoftCoordinated scenario performed best overall, followed by the Soft-Siloed scenario in landscape heterogeneity and Hard-Coordinated in residential green spaces and woodland (Table 1).
Figure 4. Land use/ land cover scenarios for the Medway Catchment. Top-left clock-wise SC, HC, HS, SS

Continued in Project Report and Annexes

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