9th May 2016

Starting the Sustainable Catchments project

Nicholas Lawrence

Well done to all the finalists who took part in the Water Challenge Geovation Camp held at Ordnance Survey over the weekend 4-6 March. The finalists had been selected as the best ideas entered to our Geovation Challenge to tackle problems associated with improving water use in Britain sustainably. Dr Steve Buss is an environmental scientist, based in Shrewsbury. A hydrogeologist by training, his professional interests also include spatial modelling and Python programming. In the Sustainable Catchments team Steve works alongside Mark Fermor, Chairman of the Geosmart Information Group.

His Story 

I had been following the Geovation Programme for some time on Twitter and previous challenges excited me but weren’t in my field. As the Water Challenge was launched, in Winter 2015/16, northern England and Scotland were experiencing devastating floods. Many commentators and organisations, including Defra and the Environment Agency, started to come around to the idea that flooding could be mitigated by changing the way that we use land in the catchments upstream of vulnerable communities.

 Floods can cause large quantities of water to flow over green land, destroying wildlife habitats and natural landscapes

Floods can cause large quantities of water to flow over green land, destroying wildlife habitats and natural landscapes

Our initial idea was to develop a national map of the areas where there is an opportunity to change the way the land is managed so that rain water can be held up and released slowly. Planting trees, blocking drains, putting meanders back in to rivers all act to spread the flood peak so that the risk to downstream homeowners and businesses is reduced. Given that the Geovation Challenge is run by the Ordnance Survey it was clear that inputs from the country’s mapping agency would be invaluable in making the project happen. As Mark and I worked through the proposal at Geovation Camp we realised that we should look at all the other benefits that the flood mitigation measures might provide to the environment: better water quality, improved water resource, cleaner bathing waters, better habitats for wildlife… So the idea has moved on from creating a tool that simply proposes natural flood mitigation measures to a more holistic mapping platform which takes into account all the benefits that changing catchment land use might provide.

We are now working with the Geovation Hub to develop a web app that can be used to map opportunity areas for land use change. We are using a spatial model to process national maps from the Ordnance Survey, Environment Agency and other agencies into the raw data that the system will work with. The web app will be online for limited trials with community flood groups, and government agencies, in July 2016 and opened up to the public in November 2016. Our strategy for data licensing is to use primarily Open Data as inputs to the model so that we can release some of the model outputs as Open Data. With free access for everybody we hope to stimulate communities to work with land managers in their catchments to reduce the impacts of flooding, and to improve their local environment for all.

Watch out for more blog posts from our Geovation Water Challenge winners in the future. Don’t miss out! See the reactions from all three Challenge winners on YouTube. Twitter: @srbuss / @geosmartinfo