Fifty years of UK Hydrological Research

The UK is a world leader in water policy research and management – evident from the UNESCO Category 2 Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science in Dundee, the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology at Wallingford, and the UNESCO Chair in Water Science at the University of Birmingham.

UK expertise in hydrology and water research was not always the norm. In fact, up until the 1950s, the UK was behind other nations in Europe and the United States in developing a modern hydrological programme. The start of UNESCO’s International Hydrological Decade and the establishment of the Hydrological Research Unit at Wallingford in 1965 helped turn this around. Both fostered the creation of a core of hydrological expertise in the UK alongside new innovative research programmes – including test sites on the headwaters of the rivers Wye and Severn on the Plynlimon massif (2500m).

In a new article, John Rodda, Honorary Fellow at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and Member of the UK National Committee for the International Hydrological Programme (IHP) of UNESCO, explores the UK’s relationship with the UNESCO International Hydrological programme and its wide-reaching impact on the UK’s water policy over the last 50 years.

The IHP is a leading intergovernmental programme of the UN system devoted to water research, water resources management, and education and capacity building.  The article demonstrates that five decades of research at the Hydrological Research Unit has not only created significant developments in the understanding of upland hydrology but also demonstrated the ability of UNESCO to stimulate and nurture scientific advances.