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Catchments under Pressure: Ecosystem Service Solutions

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CuPESS (Catchments under Pressure: Ecosystem Service Solutions)

Reporting period: 2015-07-01 to 2017-06-30

Climate change is projected to increase the frequency and extent of damaging floods in the UK and elsewhere in northern Europe. As evidenced by widespread flooding across northern England, Wales and southern Scotland in 2015/16 current flood risk management (FRM) policy that relies on engineered flood defences and allocates funds to those areas with the most assets, including households at risk, is failing large parts of the UK. In response at-risk communities are open to piloting new ways to manage flood risk. These include implementing natural flood management (NFM) which describes a series of measures that utilise natural processes such as planting trees to intercept precipitation, altering land cover and agricultural management to slow overland water flows and increasing floodplain storage through reconnecting rivers to the floodplain. NFM has the potential, through increasing water stored in the catchment, to alleviate pressure on, and extend the protection of, engineered flood defences. Furthermore, NFM interventions at the scale of a catchment may produce co-benefits, such as increased carbon sequestration in (restored/conserved) peatlands, biodiversity on floodplain meadows and sustain connection to place.
The Action research is crucial as for NFM to deliver there is a need to not only understand when and how NFM can be effective at reducing flood risk, and to determine which NFM measures are particularly effective, but also to better understand implementation issues. This is because NFM, unlike traditional engineered flood defences, is implemented at the catchment scale, often on private land and it may alter landscape aesthetics. It is therefore important to understand: which groups benefit from a catchment-based approach to FRM; what are the co-benefits of NFM and can these be monetarily valued; if different groups in society have divergent views about NFM; and to learn how groups are partnering to deliver NFM. Better understanding of these issues and learning from catchments that are piloting NFM is a necessary step to allocating funds to NFM within a more integrated FRM policy.
The conclusions of this Action are:
(1) current media reporting of floods in the UK that emphasise blame might contribute to communities being slow to adopt preparedness activities but good news stories, including about NFM pilots, might breakthrough blame and encourage activities to build community resilience. Further, it is suggestive of needed changes in government communication with the public including coupling information about climate change impacts with policy to increase preparedness;
(2) it is important to understand how different groups in society view NFM as these may affect delivery of NFM, for instance we find that farmers are more circumspect about a future role for NFM than many other groups, including conservation groups. This is critical as farmers are a potential key NFM implementation group;
(3) open source tools can model flood risk reduction benefits and co-benefits from installing NFM but these tools require significant expert and local knowledge meaning they are unlikely to be useful in the appraisal of alternative FRM options by local government;
(4) partnership working is often necessary to deliver NFM projects and small groups can be significant to better networking catchment partnerships. In an urban area biochemical evidence challenged perceptions of environmental pressures on a waterway and provided a gateway for partnership working;
(5) monetary valuation exercises are of interest to catchment partnerships contemplating NFM options but there is significant concern that alternative options are not co-developed and that many aspects of value, such as cultural and long-term resilience remain challenging to monetarily value and therefore to include in any benefit-cost analysis appraising different approaches to FRM;
(6) interdisciplinary research may sometimes involve atypical research partnerships, for instance with the creative arts. Such partnerships challenge research methodologies but in this case were useful to generate information about catchment-based cultural benefits.
In all strands of this research the fellow has indicated how these conclusions might affect policy recommendations around communication with the public, funding of pilots, partnerships and visioning exercises, devolution of FRM and in the identification of knowledge gaps. In thinking about the Action research as a whole the fellow learned much from comparing the catchments and acted as a conduit for disseminating lessons learned between the case study catchments.
Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period had six strands to:
1. investigate perceptions of FRM in the UK by analysing 44 media articles on the 2015/16 floods;
2. understand what key players, including farmers, know and believe about NFM through an online survey of 118 respondents;
3. implement an open source modelling tool (InVEST) to assess a NFM project in the Calder catchment, Pickering Beck, and to explore the usability of the modelling tool;
4. understand how partnership groups work together to deliver NFM through a social network analysis of stakeholders in the Aire catchment. An additional piece of research explored the role of biochemical evidence and effective partnership in the urban Irwell catchment;
5. monetarily value land and water management alternatives in the Somerset Level & Moors that incorporate NFM through co-development of options and deliberative approaches to monetary valuation, e.g. workshops; and
6. explore art as a means to capture sense of place in the Calder catchment by working with a filmmaker and using film as unscripted data source.

Journal papers: 1 published, 3 in review and 3 in progress for submission in 2017. One book chapter and one report on monetary valuation.

6 Conferences and 2 workshops attended, delivered 2 seminars and 2 workshops and attended a dozen catchment partnership meetings over the 4 case study catchments.
A key impact of the Action is the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Researching in four different catchments using a variety of methods and with interdisciplinary collaborations has provided the background for the fellow to learn comparative lessons and to write/develop three additional higher-level publications on sustainable flood risk management, insurance value and learning from other natural hazards that complement the in-depth case study research.