iCASP - Creating an impact with environmental science in Yorkshire

A landscape of peat bog and natural pools

image credit: J.Holden

The Yorkshire Integrated Catchment Solutions Programme (iCASP) is a £6 million NERC funded programme, running over 5 years, which aims to bring the latest environmental science to solving water related problems in Yorkshire. It intends to generate £50 million of benefits for the region, through working with local councils, businesses and third sector organisations. There are many projects within the programme and two of the first are described below. More information on the programme and additional projects can be found on the iCASP website.

Helping businesses plan for climate change

Businesses, local authorities, other government bodies and NGOs in the Yorkshire region and beyond, are planning for future climate change more effectively because of new prediction models produced by climate scientists from the School of Earth and Environment. 

The Met Office’s new UK Climate Change Projections (UKCP18), created by scientists from the School of Earth and Environment and the Met Office working collaboratively through the Met Office Academic Partnership. Jason Lowe, a professor in the School, is also the lead of the UKCP18 team at the Met Office.

The new climate projection data is higher resolution than the previous version released nine years ago, and has been designed with users’ needs in mind. Through workshops and organisational visits, the School’s scientists worked with Yorkshire Water, the National Farmers’ Union, city planners from local authorities in the region and nature conservation organisations, as well as major flood risk consultancies, to help them use the data to inform their plans, products and services and ensure they can provide resilient services into the future. The outcomes are summarised in two case studies, which show how the UKCP18 could be used by these organisations, and others like them, to address surface water flooding or drought in the region.  

Dr Ben Rabb, iCASP Impact Translation Fellow said, “We are actively supporting Yorkshire becoming more resilient to climate change. It’s about having climate and adaptation expertise on hand to translate data and models into user friendly guidance, and just to be there to answer questions”.

The Met Office is using the work as a demonstrator project to showcase the new information and how it can be used. It has helped them to decide what kind of guidance needs to be developed so that more organisations can benefit from the lessons being learnt. 

The reach of the work is increasing, as Ben Rabb, explained, “There was real appetite to facilitate a network of stakeholders coming together to discuss how they could use these projections and support each other to make effective use of it.” 

A Yorkshire UKCP18 user forum has been established since early 2019. The inaugural meeting was supported by Yorkshire Water and saw 61 participants across 30 different organisations gather to learn more about how they can adapt to climate change using UKCP18. 

The full impact of these projects will only emerge once all the organisations across the region have used the new tools and data to update plans that require climate change resilience, but it is already making a difference. Yorkshire Water have incorporated what they have learned into their statutory plans for managing the potential impact of climate change on their infrastructure. Leeds City Council have also referred to the need to incorporate the projections in their latest Local Flood Risk Management Strategy and used it in evidence to implement more stringent water efficiency planning policies in new developments around the city.

Calculating the benefits of peatland restoration 

Peatlands are the world’s most efficient terrestrial carbon store and provide other benefits such as clean water and important wildlife habitats. Estimating the value of these benefits to society in monetary terms is now easier thanks to work by Professor Julia Martin-Ortega. 

The User Guide on Valuation Methods produced by Leeds researchers Prof. Julia Martin-Ortega and Dr. Marie Ferré, in the School of Earth and Environment through iCASP, was devised in collaboration with Yorkshire Peatland Partnership and Moors for the Future Partnership. 

Designed as a highly practical guide to assessing the economic value of peatlands’ ecosystem services, the new user-guide takes the form of an interactive PDF. It assists practitioners, policy makers and potential investors in creating valuation assessments as part of peatland restoration planning. It also includes case-study illustrations and it points to the existing evidence on the value of the benefits of healthy peatlands. The intention is that quantifying the benefits in monetary terms will generate additional political interest in investing more money in restoration work.

Prof. Martin-Ortega said: “Estimating the benefits provided by peatlands is essential to support investments in peatland restoration to secure essential ecosystem services. However, identifying, selecting and applying some of the existing methods for doing so can be very difficult. This guide aims at making this process easier for practitioners and planners”. The guide also gives clear information on the costs and resources needed associated with the different valuation methods. 

Mitigating flood risk, providing drinking water, carbon storage and habitats for wildlife are some of the ecosystem services that peatlands provide. Historically peat has been used for fuel and today peatland landscapes continue to be adversely affected by burning, drainage, and forest plantation. These activities result in very large areas of peatlands being damaged and their benefits being undermined or threatened. Upland areas of Yorkshire and other similar habitats in the British Isles, are now being restored, with large investments from the EU, UK government and water companies. Assessing the impact of the restoration work and cost/benefit analysis for further funding, requires that the ecosystem services provided by peatlands can be assigned an accurate monetary value.

The Guide has just been launched, but it is gaining momentum rapidly. It is increasingly downloaded from the iCASP website by restoration practitioner organisations in the UK; and also by DEFRA, water companies, environmental consultancies and universities across Europe who work on peatland science.