Landslips in Scotland spark bid to improve forecasts

A digger clears rubble from the road at the Rest and Be Thankful. Picture: Robert Perry
A digger clears rubble from the road at the Rest and Be Thankful. Picture: Robert Perry
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BETTER forecasts of when landslides will hit Scotland are being developed by a new national centre for coping with extreme weather.

The move by the National Centre for Resilience in Dumfries has been prompted by an expected increase in such “natural hazard events” because of higher rainfall from climate change.

The British Geological Survey (BGS), which is spearheading the work, said there had been 121 landslides in Scotland since 2010, including 27 last year.

They include major rockfalls blocking roads and railways, such as at the Rest and Be Thankful pass on the A83 and a rail line through the Pass of Brander, both in Argyll.

It will include combining research from several bodies, including the BGS.

The centre’s programme board has said landslides pose “significant risk” to people on the roads.

It said: “Although landslides are a relative low risk in the UK, they have proven to be very disruptive events in the Scottish context.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Ahead of its launch, the centre has already begun its work to improve landslide forecasting by bringing together research from a variety of organisations.

“The centre provides a forum to share research to further improve the resilience of Scotland’s infrastructure, and has been forging links with Norway and Italy to share knowledge and practical experiences.

“[Scottish Government agency] Transport Scotland is committed to managing the consequences of landslides on our trunk road network, and the work of the centre will help all partners develop a better understanding of why they occur.”

The BGS, which catalogues landslides, said they were happening more often.

The Rest and Be Thankful pass was hit by a record 2,000-tonne landslip last October – the 11th to close the road in three years – with debris including boulders the size of cars.

It coincided with six other stretches of roads and railway in western Scotland being blocked, including at Garve and near Stromeferry in the Highlands.

BGS science director Dr Helen Reeves said: “In Scotland over the last three years, more frequent extreme rainfall events, causing debris-flow landslides, have had a significant impact on infrastructure, such as roads and rail, and people.

“The BGS are working closely with academic, private and public sector partners, such as the Met Office and Scottish Environment Protection Agency to further develop and advance information and methodologies to help better communicate landslide hazards and advance the development of a landslide forecasting capability in Scotland.”

It is hoped this will improve on the BGS’s current landslide forecasts, which only cover a day ahead, based on weather conditions.

Network Rail, which is involved in the work as part of the ScotRail Alliance, has already installed electronic “ears” to detect earth movements in the Pass of Brander, where a passenger train nearly plunged down a 50ft embankment after hitting a fallen boulder five years ago.

It was ordered to improve monitoring last year after three other landslips, including one in which a freight train crashed down a hillside after hitting debris near Corrour in the Highlands.

An alliance spokesman said: “Rockfalls and landslips are among any railway’s longest-standing risks. The geology of Scotland presents its own particular challenges and we invest millions each year in drainage and earthworks projects to try to limit incidents as much as possible.”