The accumulation of nutrients exported into water from land and atmospheric sources generates a variety of adverse impacts, leading to the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services and compromising water security both nationally and internationally. Research at Reading has enabled the development of modelling tools to simulate nutrient flux in complex landscapes in response to climate and land use change. Work with end users has developed these modelling tools so that they support the integrated catchment management needs of government departments and agencies, both in the UK and internationally.

The UN now rates coastal nutrient pollution as the one of the greatest current threats to the global environment. Understanding the movement of nutrients and sediment through landscapes and into water bodies enables us to determine the physical, chemical and biological quality of those waters. These adverse impacts include the nutrient enrichment of waters, also known as ‘eutrophication’.

The provision of robust scenario testing capability is essential if governments are to be able to assess the likely impact of policy and mitigation measures on the quality and health of the waters under its jurisdiction. Similarly, business planning within the food and water sectors requires a sound understanding of the likely impact of differing business models and propositions on the environment, which can be best supported through the availability of modelling tools underpinned by sound science evidence.

The Aquatic Environments Research Centre at the University of Reading was founded in 1995 to investigate catchment biogeochemical cycling. Activities within the Centre have enabled the development of modelling tools to simulate nutrient flux in complex landscapes in response to climate and land use change. The modelling tools developed as part of this research include the National Export Coefficient Modelling Framework and the Integrated Catchment Model (INCA). Both models have been widely used in both the UK and internationally.


The modelling tools produced through this research, and the scientific evidence acquired, have been used alongside comparable research by others to provide an ensemble of evidence for development and testing of environmental management policy and practice by Defra, the Environment Agency (EA), and the statutory UK conservation agencies.

This research and these modelling applications have directly influenced UK Government policy in relation to land use and management. The ultimate impact of this work and the application of these modelling tools by these agencies along with the research of others has been the development of the EU Water Framework Directive which requires each EU member state to assess the quality of its waters and implement river basin management plans to reduce pollution of these waters to ensure that they support ‘good ecological status’.


Funding for this core scientific research and the initial development of the modelling tools was provided by the Natural Environment Research Council; and further support has included funding from UK Government departments and agencies, the EU, industry, conservation organisations, and international agencies.

Research led by Professor Penny Johnes


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