How society must adapt to the impact of flooding

Posted by Professor Gareth Pender on 15 February 2016

In the UK today there is little doubt that society is being confronted by the impact of flooding on a regular basis. This is a problem to which society must adapt, through improving defenses, enhancing warning systems, maximising the benefits of natural flood management and incentivising and supporting appropriate community responses.

The role of research

Research has an important role in addressing these issues, and in recognition of this, EPSRC has been collaborating with the Environment Agency to jointly fund the Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Research Network ( This multidisciplinary community of researchers and practitioners is a crucial resource that is helping to shape the future of Flood Risk Management (FRM). Together, they recognise that there is no one single approach to FRM; rather a holistic approach that targets the physical engineering challenges, respects and enhances the natural ecological catchment dynamics, and engages local communities in creating socially responsible and sustainable approaches to climate resilience is required.

Recognising that each catchment is unique in terms of its hydrological regime, land-use and micro-dynamics means that a holistic approach to FRM must allow practitioners to have autonomy in decision-making, whilst operating within a framework of best-practice - derived from a combination of cutting edge research and practitioner knowledge and expertise. Underpinning are three flagship projects funded by EPSRC.

Three flagship projects funded by EPSRC

Blue-green cities

The idea of creating blue-green cities is an increasingly popular means of adapting our urban areas to recreate a naturally-oriented water cycle while contributing to the amenity of the city by bringing water management and green infrastructure together. This approach is achieved by combining and protecting the hydrological and ecological values of the urban landscape while providing resilient and adaptive measures to deal with flood events. Blue-green cities generate a multitude of environmental, ecological, socio-cultural and economic benefits. The innovative blue-green approach to water management in the city aims to satisfy the demands of urban drainage and planning via coherent and integrated strategies, and places value on the connection and interaction between blue and green assets.

SME's and flooding

The SESAME project recognises that many of the UK’s 4.5 million SMEs are exposed to the effects of flooding. As SMEs represent almost half of total business turnover in the country, their protection is a vital part of the drive for greater climate change resilience. However, few have measures in place to ensure the continuity of their activities during a flood and its aftermath. This project aims to understand and model the impacts of this limited preparedness and to develop tools that encourage businesses to discover ways of becoming more resilient to floods. By taking some of the mystery out of flooding and flood risk, it aims to make them susceptible to the same business acumen that enables the UK’s SMEs to deal with the many other challenges they face.

Flood memory

The FloodMEMORY project is based on the principle that floods do not occur at regular intervals. This means that the vulnerability of people, infrastructure and socio-economic systems to the impact of flooding possess a ‘memory’. If repeated floods occur prior to full recovery, increased detrimental impacts will occur. FloodMEMORY is investigating the effects of temporal clustering of flood events on natural, built and socio-economic systems in order to identify critical vulnerabilities, better allocate resources for protection and recovery, and improve flood resilience. An essential aspect of this research is replacing current inadequate conventional methods of hydrological analysis to ones better suited for use in a changing climate.

Together and its underpinning projects are delivering deliver practical research outcomes that will have impact on future FRM practice in the UK and beyond.


In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Gareth Pender
Name: Professor Gareth Pender
Department: Flooding & Coastal Erosion Risk Management Network
Organisation: Heriot-Watt University

Professor Gareth Pender, Heriot-Watt University, currently manages the Flooding & Coastal Erosion Risk Management Network, ( a multidisciplinary community of researchers and practitioners engaged in flood risk management research. Prior to this he acted as PI on the £8.5m flood risk management research consortium which delivered a wide range of research outcome co-created with the EA, Defra, SEPA and DARNI.