Dulverton Bridge over the River Barle, late afternoon 23rd December 2012.

Learning to listen: a community approach to understanding localised flood events

Exeter academics Dr Stewart Barr and Dr Ewan Woodley have been working with Exmoor National Park Authority and residents living within the River Barle catchment to better understand the ways in which communities deal with flooding.

In recent years, flooding along the River Barle catchment on Exmoor has brought widespread damage to properties and infrastructure. The Christmas 2012 flood event was the most notable of these, leading to significant structural damage and distress to residents living within and around the town of Dulverton. Acknowledging that a wide range of factors could have exacerbated the impact of the flooding, Exmoor National Park Authority commissioned researchers within Geography at the University of Exeter to assess ways in which communities at risk within the catchment could become more resilient to flooding.

The project used an inclusive, community-based approach to discuss and identify different kinds of knowledge surrounding the issue of flooding. Hearing from a range of stakeholders, including local residents, landowners, business owners, local planning authorities, the Environment Agency and emergency planning teams, a half-day workshop at Exmoor National Park Authority Headquarters aimed to enable participants to share their experience of recent flood events. The event gave participants the opportunity to explore and understand different perspectives on flooding and to discuss community priorities in promoting and realising a greater state of resilience to flood events. The report (Flooding and the River Barle Catchment) illustrates the approach used and key findings of the workshop.

The event demonstrated the benefits of using an approach that helps communities to ‘co-produce’ knowledge about flood risk. Dr Stewart Barr and Dr Ewan Woodley have recently been successful in obtaining funding from the Economic and Social Research Council to continue research into this approach within Devon. The project (Re-configuring Local Governance for Community Resilience: social learning for flood adaptation under a changing climate) is due to commence this summer and will draw on innovations in environmental social science that aim to understand how communities can become more resilient to environmental change through collaborative place-based initiatives.

Download the Flooding and the River Barle Catchment report (.pdf).

Date: 30 April 2014

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