A Major Shift in Addressing Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk in the UK

Living with Environmental Change(LWEC), a consortium of 22 organisations that fund, carry out and use environmental research and observations, has launched a new strategy to drive collaborative research into how to manage the risks to life and property posed by flooding and coastal erosion in the UK. Across the country, it is estimated that 6 million properties are at risk from all sources of flooding or from coastal erosion; this number is only likely to increase due to climate change and extreme weather events. The LWEC ‘UK Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Research Strategy’ marks, as stated by the document, ‘a major shift’ in the UK’s approach to tackling this significant economic, social and environmental issue.

Research priorities are grouped under three themes within the document: ‘understanding risk’; ‘managing probability’; and ‘managing consequence’. To take the first: managers of risks from flooding and coastal erosion need to synthesise data from multiple sources and assess the quality of these data in order to make informed decisions. The development of decision-support tools will be necessary. Secondly, the management of engineered and natural flood and coastal defences (see the blog post on Natural Flood Management from earlier this week for a brief overview of natural flood defences and the potential issues in making greater use of these) can be improved by research. This is an area where a small amount of investment may yield dividends for the UK. Finally, raising awareness and understanding of flood risk in order to influence the behaviour of individuals and communities in response to flooding and coastal erosion events is important, and an area where research into behaviour change can contribute. Also included within ‘managing consequence’ is the need for greater research so that forecasting and early-warning systems can be improved, alongside multi-agency emergency planning.

The LWEC strategy, it is anticipated, will lead to greater coordination of research effort amongst LWEC partners, whilst efforts will be made to translate the outputs of research into practice. LWEC will commission collaborative research projects, including at local scales, and will promote early collaboration between academics, industry researchers, service providers, the beneficiaries and end-users of research. Over the next 20 years (the timescale considered by the Strategy), the outcome should be the improved understanding and management of flood and coastal erosion risk for the benefit of millions of people.