Shining a light on the latest flood risk management research in Scotland

April's blog come from Rachel Helliwell, Manager at the Centre of Expertise for Waters (CREW), and summarises 5 "spark" talks and discussion held at the recent Flood Risk Management Conference in Glasgow.

Thought provoking and action-orientated ‘Spark’ talks took place during a short session at the Scotland Flood Risk Management Conference (30-31st January 2020) at the Technology & Innovation Centre, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. The punchy 5-minute talks addressed state of the art research on managing flood risk in the context of the climate emergency followed by lively discussion. 

Summary of talks

Working with nature can provide multiple benefits for human wellbeing, climate adaptation and flood mitigation. (Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
In the context of a climate emergency (IPCC reports), Biodiversity emergency (IPBES reports), health and mental health crisis, and NHS under pressure, Dr Rebecca Wade from Abertay University explained how we need to join-up our efforts to address vital issues for people, place and economy.
• Nature-based engineering and green infrastructure can provide cost-effective multiple benefits for human wellbeing as well as for climate adaptation (including flooding), but the solutions must be place-specific to succeed.
• Public health and landscape approaches are beginning to address these combined issues. By focussing on community needs and place we can deliver better solutions for the environment and for people. Integrated city-specific & landscape-level planning, nature-based solutions can contribute to sustainable and equitable cities and make a significant contribution to the overall climate change adaptation and mitigation effort.
• In Dundee, the Green Health Partnership, part of Our Natural Health Service in Scotland, has been working to engage people more often with nature for the good of their health. They are achieving this by connecting the National Health Service, Local Authority, voluntary services, community link workers and local businesses. A joined-up approach to tackle health, inequality, climate, flooding and many other issues.

Note: Nature-based options include combining grey and green infrastructure (such as wetland and watershed restoration and green roofs), enhancing green spaces through restoration and expansion, promoting urban gardens, maintaining and designing for ecological connectivity and promoting accessibility for all (with benefits for human health).

  Dry conditions  Flood conditions

                                                               Dry conditions                                                            Flood conditions

2. Managing catchments to reduce flood risk (Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
Dr Mark Wilkinson of the James Hutton Institute described the paradigm shift from working solely with structural defences to considering a wider range of measures, such as multiple catchment-based measures (e.g. *Natural Flood Management, NFM) to reduce flood runoff.

The presentation focused on one measure in particular; temporary storage areas. These areas are usually located at the edge of fields or on floodplains and are designed to store flood runoff. For most of the year these measures are dry (see images above). Mark highlighed the effectiveness of these interventions by presenting findings from the Belford catchment study in Northumberland. Here ~40 NFM measures, including temporary storage areas have been stategically placed across the catchment to help mitigate flooding (see Nicholson et al., 2020). Mark then highlighted future challenges for NFM, these included points such as assessing the effectiveness at larger scales and for extreme events (see Wilkinson et al., 2019). However, the presentation closed highlighting these measures can offer a range of wider ecosystem services (e.g. sediment capture, new ecological habitats) and therefore should be viewed as positive for their other benefits.

Nicholson, A.R., O'Donnell, G.M., Wilkinson, M.E. and Quinn, P.F., 2020. The potential of runoff attenuation features as a Natural Flood Management approach. Journal of Flood Risk Management, 13, p.e12565.
Wilkinson, M.E., Addy, S., Quinn, P.F. and Stutter, M., 2019. Natural flood management: small-scale progress and larger-scale challenges. Scottish Geographical Journal, 135(1-2), pp.23-32

3. Integrated Water Management and Sponge Cities (Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
Peter Robinson, Head of Engineering with Scottish Canals produced a 5-minute video here. His message was clear, that the future of water management needs to be holistic and joined up to address the climate emergency. Thinking of flooding as one problem and drought as another, rural problems separate to urban problems is not going to be good enough. Peter also highlighted the need to engage the public at every stage in the design, feasibility, and development process if Scotland is going to meet policy challenges.

The concept of a sponge approach, whether in a city or any aspect of water management is an engaging and joined up approach, which is gaining traction around the world.

4. Impact of blue/green and grey infrastructure interventions on natural capital in urban development (Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
Many towns and cities in Scotland face the combined pressure of tackling increasing flood risk, managing economic growth and cutting carbon emissions. To address this challenge, Prof Scott Arthur (Heriot Watt University) described a vision for the development of high quality and higher density communities on brownfield sites. Whilst several challenges were recognised, solutions were not considered insurmountable.
Heriot Watt and Cambridge Universities have assessed how different combinations of blue/green infrastructure options making up ‘adaptation pathways’ can enhance or impact natural capital and associated ecosystem service profiles over time.

Three adaptation pathways were assessed in a South London borough, a place with similar pressures to Edinburgh, to address future flooding and evolution of natural capital over time. Preliminary findings show that blue/green adaptation pathways such as Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) retention ponds and bioretention cells (i.e. landscaped depressions that capture and infiltrate stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces) enhance natural capital and increase potential for delivery of ecosystem services such as aesthetic values, air quality regulation and local climate regulation.
The key message was that it is possible to manage flood risk and improve natural capital in urban areas without impacting on development potential.

5. Dynamic Coast (Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
Dr Alistair Rennie (Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH) showcased work from the Dynamic Coast project commissioned by CREW and SNH. The research shows that Scotland’s coast is on the front line with climate change. The maps and reports at show the evidence of past and recent change and project these forward to consider which of the £18bn of coastal assets are at risk of erosion. There has been a 40% increase in the extent of erosion, a 30% fall in shores accreting seawards and a doubling of the average erosion rate to 1m/yr on our soft erodible shores since the 1970s. If recent erosion rates continue, £340m of assets will be threatened in the next 30 years. 80% of our coastal assets are protected by natural defences (sand dunes and marshes), and erosion on these shores is expected to quicken with future sea level rise. The latest research is expected to be published in summer 2020, but it is already clear that adaptation planning is now necessary across Scotland’s erodible shores.

Discussion Points

What incentives are there to embed best practices in planning or FRM? and What incentives are there from a policy perspective?

Significant green space has been lost to development because of cost-savings and operational constraints (i.e. planners and developers looking to meet minimum standards). Whilst economic incentives exist to promote best practice, the time is right for the economic model to shift to wider incentives such as wellbeing and environmental (i.e. how to incentivise land managers to install measures to reduce soil erosion).  We need a different approach to incentivising best practice and must consider who benefits?

What are the barriers to practitioners gaining access to scientific NFM research?

Academic papers are very technical, often impenetrable and difficult to access by practitioners. The problem stems from the fact that academics are judged on their ability to publish in peer reviewed journals rather than on writing blogs, popular articles, guidance notes etc. Note, not all papers are scientific robust, making it a challenge for practitioners to draw meaningful conclusions.

It was suggested that academics should improve how they communicate with non-technical audiences to enhance readership, understanding, uptake and impact of their work. It’s time for academics to investigate new methods to communicate research outcomes (demonstrations, workshops, guidance) and consider training the next generation of scientists to be more connected with their audience to allow effective communication.

The Centres of Expertise such as CREW and CXC specialise in science:policy:stakeholder communication.