Several communities in Scotland were hit hard by flooding during the storms of December 2015 and January 2016 and are still facing challenges during the recovery process. The concept of “social-ecological resilience” refers to the ability of a community to withstand such environmental shocks. A community is resilient if it can successfully adapt to such a shock – and people play a vital role in the process. Their experiences will provide valuable lessons for others in building resilience that will help them deal with any future events.
The notion of “resilience” is not just an academic concept; it is of increasing importance in public policy. The Scottish Government has 16 National Outcomes that demonstrate its long-term priorities. One of these is “we have strong, resilient and supportive communities where people take responsibility for their own actions and how they affect others”, which is reflected in an active promotion of resilience. It is thus important to policy development to understand the long-term impacts of flooding, as this will improve the evidence about the ways in which a community can become resilient, empowered and enabled to respond to these events.
Researchers at the James Hutton Institute and the University of Aberdeen are collaborating on a three-year research project which will assess the long-term impacts of flooding and complement other ways of delivering resilience in Scotland. Two areas of North-East Scotland hit by flooding in December 2015 and January 2016 will be the focus of the study. Social scientists from the Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences group of the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen are co-leading the research team, alongside the School of Geosciences at the University of Aberdeen.
The research will advance understanding of future responses to flooding and make recommendations on how to better support individuals and communities in the event of future flooding. It will produce practical recommendations to the Scottish Government and agencies that provide advice and assistance to communities during the aftermath of flooding and other extreme events.
Ballater was selected as a case study area because it had not been severely flooded in living memory. The second community, Port Elphinstone, has experienced repeated flooding in recent years. The case study areas have been selected based on the high impact of the flooding a year ago. Factors include the large number of households and businesses flooded and the length of time people were forced to live elsewhere. This will give researchers the chance to consider how the resilience of individuals and communities differs between those affected by flooding for the first time, and others which are affected by multiple floods over a number of years.
The research provides a novel perspective because previous research in Scotland has only considered the impacts of flooding over the short-term. This project will involve repeated visits to residents and businesses to track long-term impacts of floods. The research team will survey local residents and businesses over a three-year period. The research will also analyse traditional and social media to track reactions and responses to the floods of winter 2015-16.
The survey and interviews are being designed to ensure a wide range of local residents, businesses and other people associated with the flood-affected communities can take part in the research. The first phase of the interviews will commence shortly and the survey will be distributed before Easter.
The project is funded through the Centre of Expertise for Waters, a Scottish Government-funded partnership between the James Hutton Institute and Scottish universities which is supported by the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland. The researchers are experts in rural community development and resilience, and their findings will complement those of studies looking at other aspects of flood management such as flood defences and emergency service responses.
Dr Margaret Currie is a social scientist at the James Hutton Institute. For more information visit www.hutton.ac.uk. If you are interested intaking part in the project, e-mail Margaret.Currie@hutton.ac.uk or call 01224 395 297