Last week, members of the team from Wessex Archaeology attended the Flood & Coast 2019 conference alongside other key stakeholders in the Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management (FCERM) industry. The event is convened annually by the Environment Agency to discuss the future of the UK’s flood and coastal erosion resilience.

This year’s Flood & Coast event focused around the three themes outlined in the Environment Agency’s Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Strategy consultation: ‘creating climate resilient places’, ‘today’s infrastructure resilient in tomorrow’s climate’, and ‘building a nation of climate champions’. Attended by specialists in the supply chain, the event offered an opportunity to spread best practice, discuss new ways of working and to deliver excellence in FCERM.

As a leading provider of  heritage services in the industry, Wessex Archaeology’s stand focused on our innovative solutions to managing archaeological and heritage risk on FCERM schemes. We showcased successful collaborations with clients like the Environment Agency, Team Van Oord and Arup, demonstrating our commitment to safety and our creative combinations of aerial, terrestrial and marine techniques which reduce the amount of person-time required in hazardous foreshore environments and help deliver a safe, proportionate solution.

Wessex Archaeology at Flood & Coast 2019 Wessex Archaeology at Flood & Coast 2019

A particular talking point for visitors was our selection of archaeological artefacts for handling, including a mammoth tooth, Palaeolithic handaxes, Roman pots and most of a WWII German machine gun, all discovered during archaeological works near the UK coast. These finds illustrate the varied nature of the heritage assets encountered in the dynamic coastal and riverine environments threatened most by the effects of climate change.

We discussed how when done well, archaeology and heritage can add significant value to a scheme in a wide range of areas, helping our clients and partners to enable sustainable development from the early design stages of a scheme right through to construction and beyond.

David Norcott, Senior Technical Manager, said:

"It was fantastic to reconnect with friends and clients from previous projects, and to meet a large number of new contacts too. People were particularly interested to discuss how our multidisciplinary team can draw out existing data from an area and build this into a coherent narrative; providing valuable context on how landscape, environment (and drainage) have developed and been utilised by people over time. They were also keen to hear about our use of technical solutions and intelligent project design to deliver safer, more efficient and lower-carbon solutions to archaeological survey."

The programme of talks and seminars was varied and thought-provoking. The ‘Coastal Workshop – Maximising Opportunities for Growth and Regeneration’ in the afternoon of Day 2 provided interesting talks about the effects and opportunities of flooding on coastal towns and communities. One paper focused on the mental health impact that flooding has as well as opportunities to develop a sense of ‘place’, well-being and hazard management together. Another discussed ways of funding flood defenses with a focus on the wider economic benefits, such as for small businesses. The discussion that followed asked ‘How can we ensure that the coast is an integral part of the national strategy?’. One powerful response was to focus on national values located on the coast which were at risk and, if lost to flooding, would affect the rest of the UK. These values broadly included tourism and wellness aspects of the seaside but also specifically environmental and heritage assets.

Wessex Archaeology at Flood & Coast 2019 - lectures Wessex Archaeology at Flood & Coast 2019 - workshops

On Day 3, the ‘FCERM Strategy: the context for improving communications and enabling new behaviours’ workshop drew out some interesting discussions around wider collaboration, early community involvement and a tailored approach to engagement. Over 1/3 of the UK population are at risk from flooding, yet most are unaware of what that means in real terms. The wider human narrative is a key part of putting this into context, alongside targeted campaigns to bring this to life. We heard some of the scientific research behind human psychology from the Environment Agency, and current initiatives from JBA, Arup and the University of Hull – whose Earth Arcade demonstrated their high level of engagement at events by adding a crucial element: fun. As an educational charity, Wessex Archaeology seeks to engage communities in a meaningful way with their local heritage, encouraging a sense of place and generating positive connections with sustainability schemes.

We’d like to offer our congratulations to the winners and runners up of Environment Agency Project Excellence Awards. The evening demonstrated the diverse and innovative approaches to alleviation schemes, partnerships, regeneration and community engagement happening within the industry. We particularly enjoyed the keynote speech delivered by geographer and author Nick Crane from the BBC's Coast programme.

He focused on the importance of understanding the wider geological narrative – rather than looking at us as an isolated generation facing an unknown challenge, we should be considering the sweeping geological changes that have occurred over the last 10,000 years. Ultimately, the story of climate change, flooding and coastal erosion is one that spans hundreds of thousands of years. It is a human issue which our ancestors also had to cope with, and this pattern of human behaviour and land use over time can offer us some insights into how we manage our landscapes in the future. Collaborations will be key to this; learning from each other and incorporating innovations in evolving our response, as well as at a community level to educate and empower people to take action.