Upland hydrology in the UK meeting summary

I attended a one day meeting at Leeds University yesterday (10.03.14) discussing upland hydrology in the UK. It was convened by water@leeds and supported by them, the British Hydrological Society and the Upland Hydrology Group.

I presented a poster summary of my Snow Survey of Great Britain paper (in press), which helped me meet some interesting people and hear about other projects elsewhere. You can download my poster here.

I jotted down some points that stood out for me during the day. If you attended, your impressions may have been totally different! If so, please use the comments section below to share your thoughts.

After introductions the talks began with Dorothy Fairburn from CLA. She works as a lobbyist on behalf of landowners and farmers. Dorothy used her talk as a soap box to fight against George Monbiot’s recent articles on farming practices and flooding. I don’t have a problem with defending a position, what I disliked about Dorothy’s talk was the wishy washy approach to her rebuttal. It contained a few anecdotes, but was very thin on the ground with facts (or any slides) to back it up. An early example was her claim that farmers nearly never over graze the land, but sometimes under grazing can cause flooding. This should have been illustrated with an evidence.

Moving swiftly on…

Steve Addy works for the James Hutton Institute looking at natural flood  management (NFM). I have a strong casual interest in this as a close friend and previous colleague, Neil Nutt, has done some excellent work for SEPA and developed a GIS screening tool for NFM. Steve spoke about three catchments the James Hutton Institute are studying: the Bowmont Water (Tweed), Logie Burn and the River Dee. They’ve been looking at increasing deposition, re-meandering and floodplain reconnection, with a focus on sub 5 km areas to ease detection of changes.

Richard Maxted (Environment Agency) gave an engaging performance on our treatment of upland catchments as a black box, i.e. we’re only concerned about what comes out at the end. Having earned my public and private sector stripes and now working in academia, I can agree this is the case with the former two. Much work in academia seems to go into smaller catchments, in a large part probably because any changes are easier to quantify.

I really enjoyed Sophie Milner’s (National Trust) presentation on the High Peak Moors vision and plan. It was quite a post modern affair with nearly no text, but photographs for slides that Sophie spoke over. I have an intense dislike of text heavy slides, they’re basically useless while presenting (your audience can’t listen and read at the same time), so Sophie’s presentation felt free and refreshing. I was also great to see actual before and artist impression afterwards shots of improved landscapes. Having been out in the Feshie catchment last week it was great to see how quickly the flora was regenerating after a recent deer cull.

Regenerating flora of the Feshie catchment, Cairngorms.

Regenerating flora of the Feshie catchment, Cairngorms.

Rachael Maskill (Moors for the Future/Peak National Park) spoke about reducing flood risk by re-vegetating clough’s and filling them with rocks. Having spent a fair bit of time on Kinder Scout as a child it was great to see the work being carried out there to help improve/restore the environment. More importantly (for me), Moors for the future have been using time lapse photography and flow gauging. This opens the possibility of a trial snowmelt assessment. Discussions beginning!

Jihui Gao (Leeds University) spoke about using TOPMODEL to help understand changes in land cover on flood hydrographs. I used TOPMODEL a little during my undergraduate degree at Lancaster University, so it’s always interesting to hear what folk are doing with it. Jihui has changed the spatial scale to look at a grid rather than a catchment (which is a little confusing as I thought it already worked on a grid) and more importantly added a land cover component. What he’s finding is that the model is sensitive to changes in land cover but not other parameters – excellent for its intended purpose!

It was a valuable day out and well worth leaving my house at 0515 hrs to spend the day networking and hearing views and research. Thank you to the organisers!