Many communities across Scotland live with the risk of flooding – a risk that will increase with the impacts of a changing climate. Over the past decade Scotland’s approach to flood risk management has increasingly considered wider community resilience and wellbeing as outcomes from flood risk planning and action. This blog looks at how this shaped the agenda for Scotland’s Flood Risk Management Conference 2023 and related ClimateXChange research. 

As the Scottish Government prepares its Flooding Strategy, which will be out for consultation later in 2023, flood risk planners, consultants, researchers and community groups gathered for the annual Flood Risk Management Conference.

The question framing this year’s conference was ‘How can Scotland’s flood risk management sector work together to ensure that Scotland’s places continue to thrive despite the heightened flood risks brought by rising sea levels and more intense and frequent rainstorms?’

It is a question that illustrates both the importance of climate change in managing flood risk and the need to consider community resilience holistically. The National Flood Risk Assessment for Scotland identifies 284,000 properties in Scotland as being at risk of being flooded. A baseline study from 2020 found that potentially around 81,000 of these properties could benefit from some form of property flood resilience measures.

This highlights the need to work on many fronts to reduce the risk and make our buildings and wider infrastructure more resilient to the impacts of flooding. Individuals, communities, businesses and government at local and national level all play a part in preventing risk and managing impact.

Benefits by design

Recent ClimateXChange projects have looked at how flood risk management needs to be part of and also drive regional economic development, how to analyse investment needs and routes to securing investments, and how to involve a wide group of stakeholders and community interest in climate change adaptation planning.

A key theme across these research projects is how to realise multiple benefits when designing flood risk management plans – on the ground and for a range of stakeholders. How can the aim of ‘thriving communities in the face of climate change impacts’ translate into the practice of flood risk managers in local councils, national agencies like the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), businesses operating in areas with flood risk, and not least – the communities living with flooding?

Framing is everything

Framing and objectives for flood risk management are the key to setting in train positive transformation that considers how to manage shocks and stresses accompanied by a positive ambition for a thriving community. This means science and engineering balanced with engagement, lived experience and innovative approaches.

Where flood risk management in years gone by was the domain of hard infrastructure, it is now about creating a positive vision and using blue, green and grey infrastructure as important parts of the toolbox to creating flourishing communities that provide safety and wellbeing.

One useful element of the process is a Theory of Change (ToC) – a map of how activities and actions are expected to lead to the future resilient state. Developing and using a ToC sets out the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’, and can also help in monitoring progress and adjusting the course.

Learning loops

Good adaptation – and, by extension, flood risk management – integrates across policy and addresses societal challenges such as inequalities. Good adaptation processes create learning loops between those involved and, over time, thinking across strategy, tactic and operations.

The Flood Risk Management Conference 2023 confirmed that good initiatives are innovative, inclusive and ready to learn and adjust.

All the presentations from the conference are available on the Sniffer website, including a presentation by Steven Trewhella, Director of Rivelin Bridge, who presented ‘Ten in 10’ – lessons from recent CXC projects in the Coastal Change Plenary.

Related links

FRM2023 conference slides

FRM2023 conference videos

National Flood Risk Assessment

Ten principles for good adaptation

Featured ClimateXChange projects

Property flood resilience – Scottish baseline study

Tidal flooding on the Clyde options analysis and scoping of adaptation pathways

International practice on assessing investment needs and securing investment to adapt

Taking a managed adaptive approach to flood risk management planning – evidence for guidance