Innovation recognized in national flood risk management and modelling competition

Defra awards proposal to tackle flood risk in Cumbria led by Oxford fellow.

A team led by Oxford flood expert Paul Sayers received an innovation prize as part of Defra’s (Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs) Flood Modelling Competition.

The submission entitled ‘Towards a flood resilient Eden catchment, Cumbria’, developed in collaboration with Horritt Consulting, was among a number of entries recognised for their innovation, with a proposal from JBA Consulting and Lancaster University taking the overall prize.

Defra launched the competition in response to the government’s National Flood Resilience Review that highlighted potential approaches to flood risk, including new techniques and models to assess land use, water flow, natural flood management, meteorological sensitivities, property-level resilience and economic impacts.

The competition – the first of its kind – drew entries from leading groups around the world, all seeking to apply their expertise to the following question:

“If you were responsible for managing the Eden catchment in Cumbria, what  flood risk management approaches would you recommend, and why?”

The Sayers and Horritt submission used the Future Flood Explorer – a model they originally developed to support the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment that uses local model results to support an emulation of the flood risk system (Sayers et al, 2015) – to quantify present and future risks in the catchment and how successful alternative adaptation measures could be in managing it.

The analysis, for the first time, attributed benefits to individual measures when implemented as a broader portfolio response: from natural flood management to traditional defences; from property level measures to flood forecasting and warning.

Paul, a Senior Visiting Fellow at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute (ECI) and founder of environmental consultancy Sayers and Partners, noted during the award ceremony that:

‘”Resilience to flooding”’ is not the same as being ‘defended from flooding’. It does mean however using a portfolio of responses to reduce the probability of a flood occurring, limit the exposure should a flood occur and reduce the vulnerability of those that are exposed. A critical barrier to progress in delivering such a portfolio is the lack of credible decision-relevant evidence. This lack of evidence in part reflects the short-comings of traditional modelling approaches that are often too computationally intensive to explore multiple futures and responses at a catchment scale. 

We’ve developed the Future Flood Explorer to fill this evidence gap – the FFE allows us quickly to explore the effectiveness of flood management measures across the whole catchment both now and in the future, under both climate change and population growth scenarios. We can also use the FFE to explore which measures are most effective at managing future risk.’ 

Dr Thérèse Coffey MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, herself an Oxford alumnus, hosted the ceremony and remarked at its success. The prize fund was generously supported by United Utilities, Aviva and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

A summary of the submission is available here. If you would like find out more, you can contact Paul directly at


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