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Training the next generation of catchment managers

Thursday 5 January 2017

The water environment faces diverse and increasing pressures arising from a combination of factors including climate-driven changes in hydrological extremes, population growth and floodplain development, changes to carbon and nutrient cycles, and the legacy of long-term physical modification of water bodies.

The near-natural Tagliamento River in northern Italy is a field research site for river scientists in the School of Geography.
The near-natural Tagliamento River in northern Italy is a field research site for river scientists in the School of Geography.

These pressures generate threats to people, property, infrastructure, wildlife and key ecosystem services in river catchments. An integrated approach to catchment management, traversing traditional disciplinary boundaries and recognising the importance of interactions between hydrological, geomorphological, biogeochemical and ecological systems is crucial for the development of sustainable solutions to water resource issues.  Despite this, there remains a lack of experts with broad interdisciplinary training. QMUL Geography’s Integrated Management of Freshwater Environments (IMFE) MSc degree programme is designed to produce the next generation of specialists in integrated catchment management.

Bringing the field into the laboratory: the River Lab at QMUL is unique among London institutions.
Bringing the field into the laboratory: the River Lab at QMUL is unique among London institutions.

Our students study river science, policy and management and prepare for a career in the water and environment sector. Students benefit from research-led teaching in one of the UK’s top geography departments with state-of-the-art laboratory and computing facilities. The River Laboratory, for example, offers unparalleled facilities in London for research into river behaviour.

Fieldwork is a key component of the programme, encompassing a range of field methods and river environments, from globally rare chalk streams to the heavily modified rivers in London and the south-east, and with opportunities for independent field work on the near natural Fiume Tagliamento in Italy via our Erasmus Exchange programme with the University of Trento.

This year’s cohort, including masters students Hazel Wilson, Rosemary Cargill and Cameron Mills, visited northern Italy soon after the start of term in early October 2016.

Students use dendrochronology technique to determine the age of trees.
Students use dendrochronology technique to determine the age of trees.

“One of the best days was when we completed the fieldwork for our research project. We measured tree age, height, island size and shape, and looked at the vegetation cover and diversity. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to try out dendrochronology (using tree rings to age trees) through taking tree cores. It’s harder than it looks!” said Hazel. “For me the biggest learning point was in learning to observe and interpret river functioning within the wider landscape” she added.

Students also completed a River Habitat Survey. This looked at the river channel’s features, flow types, vegetation and sediment types and was used to calculate the quality of the river stretch. “Within the environmental sector and freshwater management, I have learnt that political and legislative drivers shape the way we approach and manage our rivers and habitats and getting to undertake the survey on a river so different to anything I’ve worked on before in the UK was an eye opener” said Rosemary.  

Prior to the field trip, some of the students took part in a charity walk for the Worshipful Company of Water Conservators – who provide important bursaries for students on the programme. Cameron said that this opportunity to meet people from an extensive range of organisations and backgrounds was invaluable as it gave him an important insight into the workings of the water sector outside of the academic environment. “The walk was, in my opinion, a brilliant introduction to the IMFE course” he added.  

IMFE student Amina Sheikh-Osman taking notes on the Tagliamento field trip.
IMFE student Amina Sheikh-Osman taking notes on the Tagliamento field trip.

IMFE graduates have secured jobs across the water and environmental sector in organisations including: Affinity Water, CH2M, Environment Agency, Jacobs, JBA Consulting, Rivers Trusts, Thames Water and environmental consultancies in the USA and Brazil.  

Former student Vinicius Delboni who completed the MSc in 2015 and now works for CH2M (a company that offers a diverse range of environmental and engineering consulting services in the U.S. and internationally) said he was looking for a masters programme which could help him develop flood risk management skills and prepare him for a career in consultancy. “QMUL Geography could offer exactly that” he said. “The variety of coursework throughout the programme helped me to prepare myself for delivering consultancy style reports to very strict deadlines, as well as providing me with hands on experience using cutting edge industry software, such as ArcGIS and Flood Modeller. I received help and important feedback from my academic supervisor when job hunting and after three months I was able to secure the job I wanted” he added.

“Our aim is to produce outstanding scientists capable of developing interdisciplinary solutions to priority water resource and catchment issues” said Dr Gemma Harvey who leads the programme. “To help achieve this, we work closely with an Advisory Board comprising representatives from government, private and third sector organisations in the water industry to ensure that our programme is up-to-date in meeting key industry needs. Networking and industry experience is built into our programme from the beginning, and students are encouraged to take advantage of the vast opportunities for engaging with seminars, debates and other events across London during their studies. We also work with local Environment Agency teams to provide opportunities for students to gain experience in key operational procedures in catchment monitoring and management” she added. 

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