Researchers need a better understanding of the effects of social shifts on river basins and water catchments, in addition to the impacts of climate change (A. Michalak Nature 535, 349–350; 2016). To help safeguard water-catchment services against these social changes, communities should become more involved in water-management issues.

Urbanization and industrial and agricultural developments all generate changes in legislation, policy and demographics. These can adversely affect water-catchment services, which provide social, cultural and environmental benefits such as flood defence, recreational space, geodiversity and increased biodiversity.

Catchment-management initiatives, such as improving drinking-water quality and offsetting flood risk, are estimated to cost more than £100 billion (US$130 billion) over the next 15 years in England alone. By engaging with these initiatives, local communities can contribute to their implementation and ensure that they are cost-effective.