How can we learn to live with floods?

Fiona Cuthill, assistant flood risk management consultant and editor of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society Young Geographer magazine, reports on a recent conference which looked into learning to live with floods in Scotland.

In March 2017, the Royal Society of Edinburgh  hosted an event which brought together flood resilience experts to discuss how we can learn to live with floods and the associated challenges for science and management. Speakers from academic institutions, government bodies and private consultancies discussed their research about how resilience to flooding can be achieved.

1206ukstorm4

Picture credit: Northern England, Scotland battered by floods tied to Storm Desmond, Newsweek

One of the themes explored at the conference was the use of engineering approaches to create flood resilient communities. Professor David Balmforth (MWH Global) explored the benefits of creating blue-green cities as a way to manage surface water runoff and allow urban areas to become more resilient by preventing damaging flows occurring. Dr Mark Wilkinson (James Hutton Institute) advocated the use of Natural Flood Management techniques in catchments to reduce flood risk, while highlighting their non-disruptive nature to current land use practices, as exemplified in the case of Balruddery Farm, Dundee.

Community engagement was another key theme presented at the conference with Michael Cranston (RAB Consultants/University of Dundee) discussing research undertaken into the effectiveness of SEPA flood warnings. Following a series of workshops and questionnaires with community groups, it was found that most customers are happy with the service and do take action when a warning is issued. However, customers would like more information provided in the warnings to help improve their preparedness and resiliency to flood events.

RSE conference

Picture credit: Twitter @iskraunam

Professor Ioan Fazey (University of Dundee) discussed his community engagement work in the Solomon Islands, and explained the necessity to tackle issues that weaken social cohesion to allow communities to build resilience. He also indicated the growing need for practitioners to enhance their facilitation skills to work through tensions within community groups to help build a greater resilience capacity, referencing the climate resilient communities work in the Scottish Borders.

Finally, Professor Edmund Penning-Rowsell (Universities of Oxford and Middlesex) discussed the Flood-Re insurance scheme which helps people living in high flood risk areas to afford premiums. However, Penning-Rowsell argued that subsidised premiums mean those living in high flood risk areas may be less inclined to pay for measures that will prevent their homes or businesses being flooded in the future. As a result, other ways of increasing the number of insured households will have to be tried.

Overall, the conference highlighted the need for continued improvement to our understanding of flooding and the best methodologies to build flood resilience. With flooding listed as the top environmental risk to the UK over the next century, this conference was a timely reminder that we need to continually update our knowledge and understanding of flooding to enhance the resilience of flood-prone and flood-affected communities.

The full report from the conference can be found here.

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