To paddle or not to paddle? Examining microbial contamination and risk to communities in Nottingham’s rivers

Nottingham Trent University

About the Project

There is growing public concern about the contamination of rivers and streams in the UK and implications to human health. Yet, while the levels of faecal bacteria in designated bathing waters (primarily coastal) are carefully monitored and regulated, this doesn’t include most rivers and streams that are used recreationally by community members. Due to antibiotic resistance, some bacterial infections are becoming more difficult to treat, making it increasingly important to prevent infections whenever possible. 

While local rivers and streams in Nottingham are extensively used for recreation by residents, there is only one designated bathing water site at West Lake at Colwick Country Park. All other local rivers, streams and lakes are not monitored for the presence of potentially harmful bacteria. Nottinghamshire residents accessing these sites both formally (e.g. organised water sports, angling, etc.) and informally (e.g. paddling) therefore have a high level of exposure to potential harmful bacteria, with water-borne illness being a well-known issue experienced by local water sportspersons, colloquially termed “Trent belly”. 

This project will take a citizen science approach, engaging local community members in the collection of river water samples at the sites they use and care about. Samples will be analysed microbiologically to determine the levels of faecal bacteria, and their sensitivity/resistance to common antibiotics. Samples will be taken at regular intervals over time, to help us understand how long faecal bacteria remain in the river after sewage contamination occurs.  

This research will be undertaken in partnership with the Environment Agency East Midlands branch, supporting their ongoing efforts to monitor local water quality. The data will be used to develop a model to quantify the risk to human health that will be shared with community participants along with information about antibiotic resistance and advice on infection prevention. 

This project has been co-created and is supported by researchers from Nottingham Trent University, the University of Nottingham, and partners at The Environment Agency, East Midlands. The successful candidate will be enrolled at the University of Nottingham. 

Project aims: 

  1. Determine the numbers of antibiotic resistant and antibiotic susceptible faecal bacteria in a wide range of local river water and sediment samples, and how these change over time in local river water sites frequently used recreationally by the community. 
  2. Engage local community members with issues around antibiotic resistance and how it can be tackled. 
  3. Develop a model for quantitative assessment of risk to human health from faecal contamination of river water and a tool for data visualisation and dissemination. 

Supervisory Team:  

  • Lead Supervisor: Dr Jody Winter, University of Nottingham 
  • Co-Supervisor: Dr Dov Stekel, Nottingham Trent University 
  • Community Supervisors: Martin Winter, The Environment Agency, East Midlands 

What is Co(l)laboratory?   

Co(l)laboratory is a new research programme, led by Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham, that puts community knowledge and experience at the core of research. Co(l)laboratory takes a unique approach to PhD research, offering a new way for researchers to work closely with local communities and organisations to create and deliver new research, based on the needs and priorities of the people of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.   

Co(l)laboratory takes on unique and talented candidates, providing them with training in research skills, civic leadership, evidence-based policy, and more, developing them as community research leaders, and enabling them to bring about meaningful change through their research.  

Who are we looking for?    

Do you have the qualities of a careful and detail-oriented problem solver? Do you have experience working in local community settings? We are looking for candidates with a strong potential for success, who can demonstrate a solid researcher mindset, independence, and resilience, and who have a drive to make a meaningful difference to communities through research.  


How to Apply   

For full details of this and all Co(l)laboratory projects, including eligibility criteria, person specifications, reading materials, applicant support and more, visit our website:   

Applications to all Co(l)laboratory 2024 PhD studentships must be submitted through the NTU Doctoral School applications portal, linked through the Co(l)laboratory website. This also includes Co(l)laboratory studentships based at the University of Nottingham. Applications open at 9 am on Monday 23rd October 2023 and close at 12 pm on Friday 15th December 2023. 

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