Water, water everywhere, but ideas are still afloat in the South West


  • Climate change
  • Environment
  • Fellowship

It has been a tough few months in the South West. The region has dominated the national headlines for the past couple of months, the ongoing wet and stormy weather conditions creating havoc for local residents, businesses and transport services. Returning back to Bristol on the train I was shocked to see the extent of the flooding all along the route from London and travelling through the South West has been badly curtailed by the severity of the conditions. Bristol (where I live) has been lucky for the most part and when the Avon tide was particularly high the flood barriers have held – the main drama seeming to be sightings of the Bristol crocodile!

Many innovative ways are cropping up with how to deal with adverse weather conditions and RSA Fellows have been involved in a number of ways –

(c. Frank Challenger)

The Somerset levels is one of the most severely hit areas of the country with over 65 square kilometres flooded and seemingly still no respite for affected farms, businesses and residents. A group of local Fellows highlighted the issue of flooding after the floods in 2012 and are currently looking for funding for an oral history project, to give local people a voice in the debate that surrounds the issue. The project originated from concerns that local people, who have lived and worked on the land for generations, have largely been ignored when research for solutions has been undertaken. The group consider it vital that these voices should be given a platform in the debate. If you are interested in being involved in this project, please contact Frank Challenger ([email protected]).

Hugh Thomas FRSA of the Bristol Initiative Trust, received £2,000 from the RSA West Venture fund, to fund a ‘learning ship’ that operated as both transport and ‘classroom’ for young people to interact directly with local businessman while exploring the past, present and future of the River Avon and Severn Estuary. The initial voyage was led by experienced facilitators and other business volunteers representing a range of industry sectors (engineering, power, water, finance tourism, and environment) along with wildlife experts and historians. One particular emphasis of the voyage was to increase the young people’s knowledge of the river and issues around the impact of environmental changes around the area and the importance of the river for the future of Bristol and local area. This video has been put together to show how the voyage went.

Last year we were able to link a fire fighter based in Cornwall, who had received a travel fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to visit Canada and the USA to investigate community planning and response to flood events, with a Fellow who is based in a national Drainage Board company. It is hoped this introduction will lead to useful shared learnings and connections on both sides.

Bristol has long been at the forefront of green issues and last year it was announced it would host the European Green Capital  in 2015, much work is now underway to bring together not only a programme for 2015 but to embed this agenda into the future of Bristol. A number of Fellows in the city are leading the way with this agenda and it is hoped the local Fellowship can get together to work on projects and initiatives during the next few years.

Hopefully, however small or large these initiatives may be they will all be beneficial for the area in the future.  The RSA is also looking at the wider context in which these floods have occurred, through our work on climate change. The winter’s weather has helped to push the issue back up the political agenda, but in a recent report Jonathan Rowson argued that we need to move beyond a recognition that climate change is taking place. Instead, we need to urgently examine our own behaviour, and why people who accept the reality of man-made climate change do not take action to avoid worsening it. You can read more in A New Agenda on Climate Change.

Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter

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