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Developing the evidence base for effective mitigation to prevent the spread of invasive non-native species through water transfer networks

Dr Alison Dunn (SoB), Dr Akin Babatunde (School of Civil Engineering), Dr Ben Aston (Yorkshire Water), Trevor Renals (Environment Agency)

Project partner(s): Yorkshire Water (CASE)

Contact email:
Invasive Zebra mussles encrusting a current mater (wiki) and an aquaduct (Yorkshire Water)

Invasive Non Native Species (INNS) cost the UK ~£1.7bn pa and are a particular threat to aquatic ecosystems; eg zebra mussels block pipes and reduce drinking water quality, floating pennywort clogs river intakes and increases flood risk. Yorkshire water (YW) have a statutory duty to provide a constant supply of safe drinking water, and transfer of raw water is essential to ensuring water supplies. Water transfers are critical to YW business: YW are able to supply 1.3 billion litres of water a day to their customers by retaining the ability to balance demand across our regional supply network.

The flow of raw water transfers commonly range from 1 to 30 megalitres/day, with flows of 130 Ml/day at some sites. Most transfers are by pipe, with some by brick/stone/mortar aquaducts. Accidental translocation of animals or plant fragments during water transfers can lead to the spread of INNS. Critically, the likelihood of invasion of a new water body depends on the number of INNS individuals introduced. The aim of the studentship is to develop and test new mitigation practices to reduce the spread of INNS during the large scale transfers needed to secure water supplies, focussing on key aquatic animal and plant INNS identified by the EA and the UK water industry. The student will receive interdisciplinary training in INNS biology and water engineering to develop solutions for the water industry.


  1. Test potential new mitigation measures to reduce inns density in water transfers.
    1. Changes to source pipe depth. INNS plants as well as mussel larvae are concentrated in the upper water column. The student will compare the numbers of INNS in water sourced from different depths.
    2. Timing and source of supply to grid network. Using existing data on seasonal INNS growth and reproduction and YW INNS distribution maps, the student will test the effectiveness of avoiding affected water sources at high risk times.
  2. Investigate the viability of bringing existing water cleaning measures forwards in the treatment process from receptor to source
    1. Test the effectiveness of screening and sand filters in INNS removal and their impact on water quality and flow
    2. Test the effectiveness of chemical measures (ozone and chlorine) in killing INNS


Invasive Crassula helmsii blocking a trickle filter

INNS will be identified and quantified in 10x 1l samples from each treatment tested. INNS status (live/dead) will be measured by response to stimuli at 1h and 24h post collection (animals) or by measuring chlorophyll fluorescence (plants). Water quality will be determined by physico-chemical analyses. Flow will be determined using the stage-discharge relation. This will be achieved by firstly determining the velocity, and then combining the mean velocity with cross-sectional area to provide a measurement of flow. This is then repeated through the flow range to allow rating equations to be developed which then facilitates the conversion of water levels into river flows.


The student will be a pioneer working on one of the first projects to address this knowledge gap identified by the Environment Agency and YW. The project crosses ecological and engineering disciplines and will provide the student with training in academic and applied skills in both sectors to inform technology required to provide safe drinking water. At the Univ Leeds they will be jointly supervised by AD and AB. With ADs research group, they will receive training in INNS biology and biosecurity treatments. With AB’s research group they will receive training in lab and field approaches to measure the impact of potential INNS mitigation on water quality, water flow and the security of water transfers. The CASE supervisor, YW will offer training in practical and project management skills, use of specialist equipment as well as involvement in their business planning process to understand the policy and investment implications of their work. In addition, regular meetings with the EA will provide regulatory advice and ensure results inform national policy.

Following induction with the CASE partner and the University, the student will undertake the Leeds NERC-DTP skills training programme in research and transferable skills. The

Invasive Crassula helmsii blocking a trickle filter

student will also join the Faculty of Biological Sciences post graduate induction which includes field work training. They will undertake a 2 week course in statistics and R, which is essential training in experimental design and analysis for ecologists; first aid and water safety training; and INNS training developed by Dunn in collaboration with the GB non native species secretariat.

Project specific training

Dr Dunn’s lab has lab facilities and expertise in experimental and field work on INNS biology and a track record of research into biosecurity to slow the spread of INNS. AD will provide training in INNS biology, INNS biosecurity treatments and will provide training and supervision in lab and field based approaches to test the effectiveness of INNS mitigation techniques. The student also will join the Ecology and Evolution research group where they will interact (seminar series, workshops, social events) with ecologists working on natural and managed ecosystems.

Dr Babatunde’s lab has a full suite of analytical equipment for physico-chemical water analysis. The student will be part of the water, public health and environmental engineering research group, and also benefit from the Dr Babatunde’s wider network with particular experience in river flow measurements. AB will provide training and supervision in lab and field approaches to measure the impact of potential INNS mitigation on water quality, water flow and the security of water transfers.

Training with Yorkshire Water This is a NERC CASE studentship with YW. The student will spend 3 months working directly with Yorkshire water who have extensive experience of supervising PhD students and offer a supportive environment to enable the student to fulfil their project aims but also to develop as an individual and improve their career prospects. YW will enroll the student on internal training programmes on practical (e.g confined space training) and project management skills, and will link the student with an industry mentor (either YW or an associated engineering company). The student will work alongside the YW Environment Assessment team as a team member. YW will provide access to diverse sites from our 116 reservoirs, to our major river intakes and treatment works across Yorkshire. We hold specialist equipment that the student will use for working in reservoirs and for confined space entry. Our wide pool of reservoir and process engineers will provide practical support and advice. The student will spend ~10 months with YW (Y1: 3 months, Y2: 3 months, Y3: 3 months, Y4: 1 month) as summarised below.

Yr 1, Q1 - YW induction, H&S training, attendance at autumn water industry Catchment and Recreation conference to meet stakeholders for networking. Set up with career mentor.

Photo; water & water

Y1 Q2/3 - Specific relevant training (e.g. confined space training for sampling in pipes, water hygeine certification to access clean water sites, water safety training for working in reservoirs, hazardous substance training for use of ozone and chlorine).

Yr 1 –Placement period embedded in Environment and Clean Water teams to understand supply grid, function of offtakes and existing treatment technology. Identification of suitable elements for mitigation retrofitting that can be tested for effectiveness in laboratory conditions. Sampling of key INNS distributions (spatial and temporal) across relevant sources. Briefing YW support staff who will assist in sampling.

Yr 2 –INNS and water sample collection to test effectiveness of mitigation measures (Obj 1&2; pipe depth, timing and source of supply) on reducing INNS and on water supply. Presentation at water industry INNS forum event.

Yr 3 - Use of YW infrastructure for field trials to test the effectiveness of water treatments (Obj 3&e; filters, ozone, chlorine) on removing/killing INNS and on water supply. Presentation at annual YW innovation dissemination event.



Impact of the project

This project is pioneering in testing mitigation and treatment of INNS for use in a large-scale, real world system. It thus places environmental science at the heart of responsible management of natural resources. Bringing together ecological and engineering expertise, the research will inform technology required to provide safe drinking water supplies. The research will lead to publications in high quality scientific journals as well as informing Yorkshire water business strategy, and, through YW, the wider water industry and is thus of direct benefit to the UK economy. The results will inform EA guidance to meet regulations on INNS prevention and safe water. Societal impact includes benefit to regional biodiversity and ecosystems processes through the prevention of the spread of INNS as well as ensuring safe water supply.


Applicant Background

The student will have a first degree in Biology, Ecology, Environmental Sciences, Civil Engineering, Engineering or related subject. Preferred background includes a Masters or M Biol in Biology, Ecology, Environmental Sciences, Civil Engineering, Engineering or related discipline.


  • Anderson. L.G., DUNN, A.M., Rosewarne, P.J. & Stebbing, P.D. 2015. Invaders in hot water: a simple decontamination method to prevent the accidental spread of aquatic invasive non-native species. Biological Invasions DOI 101.007/s10530-015-0875-6 • Anderson, L.G., White, P.C.L., Stebbing, P.D., Stentiford, G.D. & DUNN, A.M. 2014. Biosecurity and Vector Behaviour: Evaluating the Potential Threat Posed by Anglers and Canoeists as Pathways for the Spread of Invasive Non-Native Species and Pathogens. Plos One, 9
  • Anderson. L.G., Rocliffe, S., Haddaway, N.R., Dunn, A.M. 2015b. The Role of Tourism and Recreation in the Spread of Non-Native Species: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis PLOS ONE 10.
  • Cowle, M., Babatunde, A. and Bockelmann-Evans, B. N. 2016. The frictional resistance induced by bacterial based biofouling in drainage pipelines. Journal of Hydraulic Research, 55(2), 269-283
  • Cowle, M., Babatunde, A.O, Rauen, W.B., Bockelmann-Evans, B. N. and Barton, A.F. 2014. Biofilm development in water distribution and drainage systems: dynamics and implications for hydraulic efficiency. Environmental Technology Reviews 3(1), pp. 31-47.
  • EU 1143/2014
  • GB NNSS Strategy
  • Sani, A. Scholz, M, Babatunde, A.O. and Wang, Y. 2013. Impact of Water Quality Parameters on the Clogging of Vertical-Flow Constructed Wetlands Treating Urban Wastewater. Water, Air, & Soil Pollution 224(3). • C. Sutcliffe, C. H. Quinn, C. Shannon, A. Glover, A. M. Dunn 2017 Exploring the attitudes to and uptake of biosecurity practices for invasive non-native species: views amongst stakeholder organisations working in UK natural environments. Biol Invasions (2017).

Related undergraduate subjects:

  • Biodiversity
  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Biology
  • Conservation
  • Conservation biology
  • Ecology
  • Engineering
  • Environmental biology
  • Environmental conservation
  • Environmental management
  • Environmental policy
  • Environmental science
  • Geography
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Natural resource management
  • Natural sciences
  • Sustainability
  • Sustainability and environmental management
  • Water management
  • Zoology