Identifying and prioritising nature based climate change adaptation measures for addressing future flood risk: creating a systematic evidence map.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Environment, Education and Development


The purpose of this research is to provide an assessment of evidence and tools available to implement nature-based solutions (NBS) to address future flood risk in the UK in order to build the resilience of the UK's people, economy and infrastructure to climate change. It will do so through three main phases. Firstly, we will map the existing state of the environmental evidence base that UK practitioners can draw on with respect to climate projections and nature-based solutions to address fluvial, pluvial and coastal flood risk. This shall be done in a way that recognises the co-benefits of these measures and how they can be used within a holistic flood risk management approach. Secondly, we will address the usability of existing evidence amongst the practitioner community in order to isolate evidence gaps and good practice with regard to NBS evidence. Thirdly, the project will bring together a researcher and policy community around NBS in order to propose novel means of implementing UK commitments on climate resilience in light of key social and economic challenges and communicate this in a range of different formats.

Our engagements with the policy and research communities will occur around a variety of fora. Firstly, through desk-based research, we will seek to understand the current range of evidence relating to NBS in the UK around the themes of:

(1) understanding the evidence required for the implementation of NBS, such as new climate projections at different scales;
(2) understanding the available data on the effectiveness of NBS from both the natural and social sciences; and
(3) understanding the opportunities for, and barriers to, implementing NBS relating to the current evidence base and available climate change projections.

Secondly we will undertake research with key researchers in the field through workshops in order to co-identify areas of research evidence opportunities and gaps. Once the evidence landscape has been mapped out, we will work with regional practitioners in Greater Manchester in order to understand the extent to which exiting policy and evidence is usable in meeting their aims of building climate resilience.

Greater Manchester is a good case study in this regard due to the policy commitments relating to building the resilience of the city and also the range of funded projects that are currently being undertaken to support the implementation of NBS. This includes the EU Life + Natural Course Project, the H2020 funded Green Cities for Climate and Water Resilience, Sustainable Economic Growth, Healthy Citizens and Environments (Grow Green), and GM's selection as a Defra Urban Pioneer. Whilst we recognise the limits to generalisability from focussing on the experiences of Greater Manchester, the work should isolate useful insights, particularly for practitioners working at city and regional level, with the opportunity to understand some of the issues around the impact (or potential impact) of the devolution agenda and potential loss of funding from European sources after Brexit.

The project will therefore target different research and policy communities in a variety of ways in order to develop a systematic overview of the challenges and opportunities facing the UK in terms of utilising existing evidence bases to facilitate the implementation of NBS to address future flood risk. The various outputs that will support this include an evidence database, policy briefs targeted at different types of practitioners, and reports on evidence gaps and good practice in making research useful to practitioners in light of revised UK climate projections.

Planned Impact

This project has been set up as a mapping exercise that will seek to identify research gaps in the evidence base around the implementation of nature based solutions (NBS) in the UK, and to assess the extent to which this evidence is usable in practice. This will address key areas where the evidence base meets and/or does not meet the needs of practitioners in light of new climate projections from UKCP18 and the UK's commitments on climate change adaptation and increasing resilience. Therefore, there are two immediate sets of beneficiaries which include the research community, broadly conceived as academics and consultants, as well as policy makers and practitioners. By engaging directly with both, the research will seek to bridge the science-policy gap in terms of research on NBS and will thus indirectly be of use to knowledge brokers and other organisations who also sit at the science-policy interface. Other indirect beneficiaries include standardisation bodies, architects, and designers who may specify climate resilience measures in their designs for a more resilient built environment.

The key contribution of this research project will be in the mapping of the existing UK evidence base relating to NBS. The database outlining current evidence will act as a baseline in terms of current research good practice and needs. As this will be co-identified through our engagement with various policymakers and practitioners, the recommendations will improve usability of the research in the immediate future.

We will assemble an advisory group drawn from academia and practice, including the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Town and Country Planning Association, Core Cities, and SNIFFER (email acceptance from these organisations is available to see). The advisory group will also provide the function of helping to increase the impact of the project in their sectors/networks as well as shaping the research project. In addition, we will establish a project webpage and use existing blogs to communicate the findings (e.g. policy@manchester, Institute for Government, the Conversation). We have experience in this from previous research projects and this will be a good means of building our reach and developing impact. It should be noted that the research team is drawn from a strong foundation and knowledge base at the University of Manchester and each are already engaged in projects that relate to NBS, climate change adaptation and holistic flood risk management. Their existing networks can be utilised in order to disseminate the outputs of the research in a way that targets local, national and international parties.

A key element of impact will be the engagement with beneficiaries through interviews and workshops. The connection into the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which holds a range of NBS projects, will also help to bring in key stakeholders and to disseminate the work beyond Greater Manchester. The GMCA is also connected to three catchment based partnerships that can help to address beneficiaries at different scales. The interviews and workshops, although part of the research process, will develop further associations that will generate increased interest in the project outputs. Our RAs and Investigators will are well-placed to capitalise on these networks beyond the core project partners (the climate resilience team at the GMCA) and the Advisory Group.

The main impact outputs will be a project website hosted on the University of Manchester web pages, policy briefs directed at different practitioner communities (climate change officers, flood risk managers, urban planners), and reports on good practice in developing evidence (aimed at the research community). The advisory group will be asked to provide direction on appropriate outputs through the project.


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Description Over the past decade, there has been increased interest in Natural Flood Management (NFM) measures that aim to reduce flood risk through working with, instead of against, the natural environment. These measures include techniques that aim to protect, restore and emulate the natural functions of catchments, floodplains, rivers and the coast. Examples of NFM measures include river restoration, planting catchment woodlands, and securing sand dunes.

Although the role and value of NFM is becoming clearer, there remain barriers to its wider adoption. Gaining more traction for NFM is partly dependent on the availability of robust data on the effectiveness of NFM measures in practice. This project aimed to highlight the way in which existing NFM studies, from different disciplinary backgrounds and across Europe, evaluate effectiveness, and the extent to which they account for climate change as part of this evaluation. The main research question guiding this review was; what approaches exist to evaluate the effectiveness of UK-relevant NFM measures? Beginning with a 'long list' of over 16,000 sources, an intensive process was followed to arrive at a 'short list' of 216 sources to be reviewed in detail. The key findings of the systematic evidence review can be summarised as:

- Studies are seeking to define and measure NFM effectiveness in several different ways. These concern the extent to which NFM reduces flood risk, the effectiveness of NFM processes and procedures, levels of time and costs involved and the extent to which NFM delivers benefits beyond flood risk management (e.g. linked to carbon sequestration or biodiversity conservation). Studies evaluating NFM therefore do not only conceive effectiveness according the extent to which schemes lessen downstream flood risk, although this was nevertheless found to be the dominant approach.

- There is limited consideration given to climate change in evaluations of the effectiveness of NFM schemes. Given that climate change is a pressing concern for societies, that NFM is often championed as an element of climate change adaptation responses, and that climate change induced changes to temperature and precipitation patterns may impact on the effectiveness of NFM measures, this is a significant research gap.

Taking forward these findings, the following recommendations are proposed:

- Projects engaging in inter- or trans-disciplinary research approaches could usefully investigate NFM measures from multiple angles of effectiveness. In particular, there is more scope for considering the costs of implementing NFM measures and whether additional benefits (such as biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration) are achieved.

- Future research in this field must engage more comprehensively with the climate change agenda and consider the effects of climate change when evaluating how effective NFM measures may be in the future.

- There is a need to recognise the breadth of approaches taken to understanding and evaluating NFM effectiveness. Future research should make the form of effectiveness that they are measuring more explicit. Further, it would be useful to consider developing a framework for supporting a broader approach to evaluating and prioritising NFM schemes that adopts a multi-dimensional approach to understanding NFM effectiveness.
Exploitation Route Developing better understanding of what constitutes 'effective' natural flood management has the potential to inform policy, practice and research in this field. A key route that will be taken to further disseminate the outcomes of this research is via publications within relevant journals. There are two journal papers linked to this aware in preparation, with the goal to submit these during 2021. The first is a follow up to the systematic map protocol published in the Environmental Evidence Journal, and will present a systematic map of the evidence on natural flood management effectiveness gathered during the project. A second paper will look at the findings of the project from the perspective of natural flood management policy, practice and research.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description PERI-CENE (Peri-urbanization & climate-environment change)
Amount £322,567 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/S013172/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2019 
End 11/2021