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23rd November 2022

Partnership of researchers secure new UKRI MRC funding to tackle pharmaceutical contamination in Scotland’s waters

Image of pharmacist advising patient
Researchers at the University of Highlands and Island’s Environmental Research Institute, NHS Highland and the University of Nottingham have secured £100,000 of funding to develop and evaluate a framework to incorporate environmental risk into prescribing practices.

The occurrence of pharmaceuticals in the environment, and the risks to aquatic life are well-recognised and occurs worldwide. Pharmaceuticals are introduced to the environment by those taking prescription and 'over the counter' medicines through the excretion of residues into wastewater and when unused medicines are flushed down the toilet/sink instead of being returned to pharmacies.

This 12-month project is in partnership with the James Hutton Institute, Scottish Water, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the University of Uppsala. The project builds upon knowledge gained in a recent CREW-funded project: ‘Pharmaceuticals in the Water Environment’ and CREW continue to fund impactful research on water quality and health, read more here. The project will use a novel visualisation tool developed by the One Health Breakthrough Partnership, supported by SEPA, that includes data on medicines detected in Scottish waters and NHS Highland prescribing data to generate new knowledge and to raise awareness of the environmental impact of prescribing and to develop sustainable practices that benefit the NHS, patients and Scotland’s aquatic environment.


1st November 2022

Scottish Science Advisory Council (SSAC) internship opportunity

The Scottish Science Advisory Council (SSAC) has an internship opportunity looking at place-based approaches to adaption.

Deadline for applicants is 7th November 2022. For more information and to apply please see the document below.

CRW2022_07 Climate Crisis: informing Scotland’s actionable mitigation and adaptation response to water scarcity

Loch water reflection - Photo credit: Sarah Halliday

CREW Code: CRW2022_07

Theme: Hydrological Extremes, Coasts and Risk Management

Project status: Project complete. Click here to visit the publication page to view the project outputs.

Type of project: Capacity Building

Lead research team: University of Dundee

Scotland’s climate is changing at a rate unprecedented in human history. We are becoming exposed to climate related risks, such as water scarcity, that were not considered significant in the past and have not been planned for. The first phase in addressing this shift in risk has been to develop early warning and emergency measures to mitigate the impacts of exceptional events such as the 2018 European drought and its impact in Scotland. However, as we better understand the projected increasing severity and frequency of dry periods and our potential future demands on water supply, an adaptation gap has become evident that risks the security of what has, up until now, been seen as a dependable, high-quality water supply.

In this project the research team review past, present and future changes in water scarcity risk in Scotland. Through engagement with a broad spectrum of stakeholders in the water sector and government agencies the research team asked the questions: 1) What is currently being done to reduce the likelihood and severity of water scarcity? 2) How effective are these strategies now and will they still work under a changing climate future? 3) What additional actions do we need to take to address water scarcity in the future?

In answering these questions, the research team highlight the current challenges in addressing the water scarcity risk and provide recommendations on how to address them. These recommendations are presented as programme of work over the short and long term. To take it forward, the research team propose a governance structure formed of representatives from the relevant agencies and in partnership with businesses and communities. The programme is a prioritised set of recommended actions that would contribute to the delivery of a system of national water resource planning, supported by improved levels of water stewardship from across society. The planning will be informed by better access to water supply and demand information and a programme of research that addresses the evidence gaps and improves knowledge exchange across the water sector.

This project has completed. Click here to visit the publication page to view the project outputs.



Project Objectives

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CRW2022_02 The effect of shellfish, kelp and sea grass beds on flood risk and coastal erosion in Scotland

Scottish Coastline - Photo credit: Rebekah Burman, James Hutton Institute

CREW Code: CRW2022_02

Theme: Hydrological Extremes, Coasts and Risk Management

Project status: Project in progress

Type of project: Capacity building

Context: The intention of the project is to fill gaps in knowledge around the role of shallow marine habitats in flood and coastal erosion mitigation in Scotland. The work has relevance to multiple policy areas, including those relating to flooding and coastal erosion, biodiversity, climate change, marine planning and ambitions for a blue economy.


Budget: up to a maximum of £100,000. 

Aim: The overall aim of this project is to inform whether shellfish (oyster and/or blue mussel beds), kelp and sea grass should be incorporated into natural flood management (NFM) in Scotland and whether (and which) existing features should be protected or restored for NFM and coastal erosion mitigation.

Project key questions:

  1. What is the current state of knowledge and data availability?
  2. What additional information can be sourced from relevant stakeholders including experts and policy-makers, especially with regards to recent developments and unpublished data?
  3. What marine habitats could be considered in the Scottish context to reduce flood and erosion risk?
  4. What does the literature suggest regarding the role of different marine habitats in flood and coastal erosion mitigation and potential benefits and limitations?
  5. What is the historic and current distribution of native oyster beds, blue mussel beds, kelp and sea grass beds in Scotland?
  6. How are these habitats subject to commercial fishing or harvesting practices in Scotland and are there future plans to expand commercial exploitation of these habitats?
  7. Which existing marine habitats are most likely to reduce flood risk and erosion to adjacent shorelines in Scotland?
  8. What plans currently exist and what are the costs for planned restoration of these features in Scotland?
  9. Which areas/locations in Scotland could be targeted to reduce this risk, and/or are there sites where existing features could be protected or restored to reduce risk?
  10. How can this be represented in form of a simplified map to inform stakeholders?
  11. What are the clear opportunities for protection, regeneration, and/or restoration of these habitats in Scotland and what recommendations can be given about how to design these features for flood and coastal erosion management? 

Impact: Benefits include the development of policy in relation to NFM that facilitates the management, restoration and protection of these marine features, thus helping to reduce flooding to coastal communities and increase resilience to future changes in risk.

Lead research team: Heriot Watt Universtiy

Project Objectives

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CRW2022_04 Assessing the socio-economic impacts of soil degradation on Scotland's water environment

Tractor - Photo Credit: James Hutton Institute

CREW Code: CRW2022_04

Theme: Land and Water Resouce Management

Project status: Project in progress

Type of project: Capacity building

Context: Soil degradation can result in damage to people, businesses, and the environment with consequent impacts to a wide range of policy/regulatory/industry areas. Measures required to avoid soil degradation and follow-on impacts may need to be implemented by businesses and in areas that are not necessarily related to the communities and businesses who will benefit the most. The true costs of soil degradation in Scotland for land-based businesses and the wider society (e.g, impacts on water quality, flooding, climate, and biodiversity) is unknown.

Aim: Develop and apply (as supported by available relevant data) a method to assess the socio-economic-environmental impacts of soil degradation, both the on-site impacts on land-based businesses and wider off-site impacts on Scotland’s water environment.

Project key considerations: 

  • Potential to build on or amend existing cost of soil erosion frameworks to include other relevant soil degradation processes in Scotland.

  • Use of these existing or newly developed methods to assess direct, on-site costs to land-based businesses and indirect, wider (on- and off-site) costs to society, with a focus on the impacts on water quality, aquatic habitats and species, biodiversity, and flooding.

  • How best to apply and validate these methods.

Impact: Provide an enhanced understanding of the impacts and costs of soil degradation to inform development and implementation of more holistic actions to prevent wider (and potentially more costly) social and environmental impacts.

Lead research team: James Hutton Institute


Project Objectives

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  • Policy: Water and Climate Policy/Regulation, Natural Flood Management, Coastal Erosion Management.

  • Science: flooding, water scarcity, coastal erosion, risk scenarios and nature-based solutions.


CREW's Hydrological Extremes, Coasts and Risk Management theme focusses on providing high quality science knowledge regarding flooding, water scarcity, coastal erosion, risk scenarios and nature-based solutions.


The projects undertaken within this theme inform policy and regulation areas including Scottish National Adaptation Plan (SNAP3), Climate Change Plan for Scotland, Flood Resilience Strategy, Flood Risk Management Act, Natural Flood Management and National Coastal Change Assessments.

Improved understanding of the interrelationships between climate and water from source to sea will help deliver short and longer-term outcomes for society and the water environment.


Recent research within this thematic area includes:

CRW2022_06 Emerging Contaminants: Informing Scotland’s strategic monitoring and policy approaches on substances of increasing concern

River with shingle -  Photo credit: K, Marshall

CREW code: CRW2022_06

Theme: Water Quality & Health 

Type of project: Capacity Building

Project status: This project has been completed.

Please view project publication page here.



The aim of this project was to inform, prioritise, and coordinate actionable monitoring and policy-based approaches to identify, assess, and mitigate risks from substances of increasing concern to Scotland’s water environment. Contaminants of increasing concern (CICs) comprise a diverse range of substances and organisms, including chemical groups such as pharmaceuticals and pesticides; biological contaminants such as pathogens and antimicrobial-resistant (AMR) genes; nanomaterials; and microplastics. CICs include compounds and organisms that are ‘new’ or increasing in presence in the environment or compounds or organisms already known to be present for which new information becomes available, e.g. on pathways or toxicities. Substances and groups considered CICs therefore evolve over time, due to new insights or new patterns of use.

Using a Substance Mapping approach, including literature review, an expert survey and a knowledge sharing workshop, the team found that based on evidence encountered, no CIC groups can be discounted for Scotland and significant data gaps exist on sources, pathways, exposure routes, hazard and risk. Many national and international databases are however available and could be consolidated for Scotland. The research team further recommended partnership working, an international review of policy options, and expansion of research capacity to further refine and fill the knowledge gaps. 






Project Objectives

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CRW2022_01 Developing risk assessment approaches for PFAS and watch list parameters under the recast Drinking Water Directive

Glass of water with flowing stream in background. Sourced from istock. copyight restrictions apply

CREW Code: CRW2022_01

Theme: Water Quality & Health

Project status: Complete. Please click here to visit the publication page to view the project outputs.

Type of project:  Capacity Building

The research project conducted assessments of the potential presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), 17β-estradiol, and nonylphenol for drinking water supply sources in Scotland, to identify high risk areas and enable prioritisation of monitoring and additional knowledge generation.

PFAS, a class of synthetic chemicals produced since the 1940s, are persistent, toxic and bioaccumulative and have been linked to detrimental impacts on childhood development, cancers, and immune system disorders. Nonylphenol and 17β-estradiol are endocrine-disrupting chemicals connected to cancer, reduced fertility and obesity. Due to increasing awareness of the potential occurrence of these substances in the environment, a new standard for PFAS was introduced for Scottish drinking water in January 2023, and Scottish Water commenced a nationwide risk based sampling programme at that time. 17β-estradiol and nonylphenol were added to an EU drinking water watchlist, so Scottish Water will need to monitor for their presence in their supplies when the watch list is adopted in Scotland.

The research project estimated which supplies had the highest potential likelihood of detecting the substances in the raw (pre-treated) water. The assessments identified higher likelihood of PFAS and nonylphenol presence in those areas with higher population and industry densities (predominantly the central belt and east of Scotland), whereas areas with the highest likelihood of 17β-estradiol presence were those under more intensive agricultural use (predominantly the northeast and south of Scotland). Having identified these areas now allows further refinement of monitoring programmes to aid our understanding of the potential presence of the substances, their sources and possible treatment requirements. This in turn will inform best strategies and actions to reduce concentrations of the contaminants if necessary, not only in drinking water, but also in the envrionment.

Lead research team: University of Dundee

The project has completed. Please click here to visit the publication page to view the project outputs.

Project Objectives

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  • Policy: River Basin Management Planning (RBMP 3), Nature Capital, Post CAP Rural Support.

  • Science: water and soil management, energy, land use, diffuse pollution, resource recovery and reuse


The Land and Water Resource Management theme considers the relationship between water and land management, detection and mitigation of diffuse pollution and resource recovery and reuse.


The projects within this theme will inform regulation and policy in areas which include nature capital, land use and urbanisation and post ‘common agricultural policy’ rural support.

The improved understanding of water and land resource management will support recognition and quality of the ecosystem services on which society depends.


Recent research within this thematic area includes:

- A capacity building project aiming to assess the socio-economic impact of soil degradation on Scotland’s water environmentDirect and indirect costs to society will be considered with a focus on water quality, aquatic habitats, biodiversity and flooding.

- A capacity building project on Hydro Sector engagement over environmentally effective and cost-efficient sediment management at impoundmentsThe project aims to improve understanding and raise awareness of the cost effectiveness of different sediment management options available to address these risks.

18th October 2022

CREW Programme Report 2016-2022

CREW is pleased to present a Programme Report (2016-2022) for the Centre of Expertise for Waters.

Water is at the heart of Scottish life - socially, environmentally, and in economic terms as a sector in its own right, and as a critical resource in Scotland's manufacturing, agriculture, food and drink, tourism and energy sectors. Scotland's Hydro Nation agenda supports the Scottish Government's vision as a world leader in the sustainable management of water. To deliver that vision we must ensure that the respected knowledge generated by research underpins our future.  This ambition is central to CREW's values. Our underlying ethos has, and will continue to be, to deliver the right information to the right people at the right time, and in the right way.

Over the last six years, and as highlighted in this Programme Report, CREW has delivered more than 105 projects in the process of meeting its objectives of supporting policy and practice, and in delivering relevant outputs. We aim to achieve this through our core principles of; co-construction, communicability, trustworthiness, timeliness, supporting an inter-disciplinary vision, and focusing on impact, outcome and “value”.  There are many examples of CREW's work throughout this report, and on behalf of the team and all research partners, we are proud to highlight what has been achieved, and we hope you find it of interest.


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