Scientific advances in coping with flooding

Neville Makan, our Operations Officer in Stirling, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire, writes about the recent RSE Conference ‘How can we learn to live with floods? Challenges for science and management’.

Flooded parkland in Perth. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Flooded parkland in Perth. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) hosted a conference on 15th March addressing how we can live with flooding.   Identified by the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment as the top environmental risk to the UK over the next century, flooding is formidably difficult to tackle – socially, economically, scientifically and even ethically. The RSE event attracted more than a hundred people drawn from academics, agencies and NGOs, community groups and the public.

We know that global mean temperature is increasing, leading to climate change, but there is simply not enough data to statistically prove that the recent record-breaking flooding events, experienced across the UK, are linked to global warming.  Records have been broken before and, along with high levels of natural variability, it is difficult to predict when we will have flood events and have come to the conclusion that extreme flooding is the new norm.

However, the modelling studies are improving in predicting where floods will occur, and how we should manage them. That was the more reassuring finding emerging from the conference – we are now much better placed to advise on imminent floods and measures that should be taken to reduce the adverse impacts.

River Earn in spate, Perthshire. ©Lorne Gill

River Earn in spate, Perthshire. ©Lorne Gill

We were shown how ‘blue-green’ corridors can be created to manage surface flood waters, at source, along pathways and in and around receptors within the urban environment.   And we learned more about improvements in techniques for natural flood management within catchments across rural landscapes, where Natural Flood Management is now seen as an essential tool in the rural land management toolbox.

There is still much debate about how woodland regeneration and other ‘natural remedial’ measures can dampen the impacts of flooding. Coincidentally, on the morning of the conference some media attention was given to a scientific publication setting out some key evidence gaps that need to be filled before we can be more certain on the benefits.

We need people to engage with urban design solutions that can help them around their homes – not just in finding sustainable ways to live with floods, but in realising the benefits that can stem from more community action.

It was a great conference, capped by an excellent public debate in the evening. We look forward to seeing the formal report from the RSE, reassured that scientists agree on at least one point, admirably enunciated by  one of the speakers – “Water flows downhill and then collects in puddles!”

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