A screenshot of a GIS system with shapes depicting Historic Watercourse Polygons, over historic mapping.
Historic Watercourse Polygons (HWPs) indicating modifications and uses of the Raven Beck above Kirkoswald, drawing on historic OS mapping, lidar and risk of flooding data.
Historic Watercourse Polygons (HWPs) indicating modifications and uses of the Raven Beck above Kirkoswald, drawing on historic OS mapping, lidar and risk of flooding data.

Building Climate Resilience Through Community Landscapes and Cultural Heritage ('Clandage')

A project to capture local community experiences of historic adaption to climate and extreme weather.

The Clandage project

The Clandage project (Building Climate Resilience through Communities, Landscapes and Cultural Heritage project) has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, through the UK Climate Resilience program, to investigate how landscapes, communities and people have historically experienced, coped with and adapted to climate change and continue to do so.

There are three strands to the project, one in Staffordshire in partnership with the Staffordshire Record Office, another centred around the River Eden in Cumbria, working alongside researchers from Historic England, and the third working with the Museum & Tasglann nan Eilean Siar in the Outer Hebrides.

In all of the case study regions, the project is exploring how communities have adapted to climate change to become more resilient, but in each the approach and focus will be tailored to the different environments.

Clandage addresses three long-term ambitions of the Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management (FCERM) 2020 strategy to develop:

i) climate resilient places;

ii) develop growth and infrastructure today that is resilient to tomorrow’s climate;

and, iii) a nation ready to respond and adapt to flooding and coastal change.

Understanding past impacts of climate change

Historical records, archives and oral histories offer valuable avenues for investigating how landscapes, communities and people have adapted to climate change. These changes might have come through incremental modifications (potentially even unnoticed), or through rapid adjustments, potentially reflecting abrupt changes in an environment, whether physical or cultural. Adaptation has taken the form of landscape and community losses and gains.

Understanding how past changes impacted landscapes, communities and people provides a basis for examining how future changes may be managed and how adaption practices may be both implemented and communicated through a variety of mechanisms. Building resilience to the impacts of climate change at a range of spatial and temporal scales is an issue of global importance.

By exploring climate resilience at landscape scales (regions), within which different community’s function, we can examine contrasting cultural and environmental contexts. Context is an important influence on vulnerability, relative adaptability (including failure to adapt) and subsequent resilience in response to change. Previous research has focused predominantly on how communities have recorded and understood recent extreme events such as floods, storms and droughts, but has included only limited consideration of how these communities have historically responded and adapted to such events, thereby building both community and individual resilience. In considering the multidimensionality of disasters in the past, present and future we need to consider social vulnerability (a function of a society’s sensitivity and capacity to respond and recover to events), in doing so we deepen our own knowledge of social response to environmental change.

The Approach to the Case Studies

Within the Clandage project we are predominantly working within the River Eden catchment focused on flooding in partnership with Historic England), with two additional smaller studies in the Outer Hebrides (storms) with the Museum & Tasglann nan Eilean Siar and Staffordshire (droughts) with Staffordshire Record Office, with each presenting a particular environmental hazard focus.

Across all three case studies we consider the importance of landscape and place in framing local understanding and perceptions of climate and weather. We also study how climate and weather have shaped local adaptation to climate change and interactions with landscapes, adaptations which have resulted in resilience and productive environments within which people and communities prosper. Throughout the project we are holding community events, such as creative poetry, storytelling events and walks and ‘creative artist activities’, as part of a broader community engagement process to build a record of local knowledge. These supplement existing archives that we have accessed including Historic Environment Records, historic maps, Environment Agency archives and organisation materials, regional and local archives and existing databases.

A toolkit using StoryMaps

The key output from Clandage’s work in the River Eden study will be a transferable toolkit for identifying, assessing, and characterising river heritage and materials in collaboration with local communities.

The toolkit, developed in partnership with Historic England and Fiordr, will identify cultural and social records of significance and allow the impact of climate change on landscapes to be assessed. This will support managers and communities in respect of current landscapes and environments and inform future climate resilience planning.

The toolkit will produce StoryMaps, an ESRI product that enables the combination of GIS mapping to be augmented with textual (e.g. diary exerts) and visual materials (historic photographs). The StoryMaps will be made available to agencies and organisations, local authorities and communities. The toolkit will use a multifaceted approach of cataloguing features (historic, material and archival), supplemented by contemporary oral histories within a GIS environment using an approach previously developed by Historic England and Fjordr.

Throughout the process we are exploring how trajectories of vulnerability to events have changed over time. This will enable us to identify communities and landscapes most sensitive to future events and indicate where resilience may take different cultural forms. It will also help identify where opportunities exist to incorporate future climate change resilience.

Clandage is a study of how communities have responded through adaptation of skills, attitudes, values and behaviour, qualities that may be needed to live with ongoing uncertainty and vulnerability in the face of climate change.

About the authors

Prof. Neil Macdonald

Professor of Geography at the University of Liverpool

Neil is a Geographer that works at the intersection of the physical environment and people. He has led several projects exploring historic extremes, particularly floods, droughts and storms within the UK, and Europe; using a range of historic archive materials together with environmental archives (e.g. sediments).

Dr Alice Harvey-Fishenden

Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Liverpool

Dr Alice Harvey-Fishenden is a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Liverpool, working on the CLANDAGE project. Her AHRC funded PhD research focused on developing a better understanding of the societal impacts of droughts in the past, and how archive documents can be used to learn more about extreme weather conditions.

Dr Hannah Fluck

Head of Environmental Strategy, Historic England

Hannah oversees Historic England’s strategic work on climate change and is author of Historic England’s first Climate Change Adaptation report. She is a contributing author to the third UK Climate Change Risk Assessment, a reviewer of the IPCC special report on Climate Change and Land and is a selected participant of the ICOMOS/IPCC/UNESCO Co-Sponsored Meeting on Culture, Heritage and Climate Change. She is also a founding steering committee member of the Climate Heritage Network.

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