Climate impacts on health and wellbeing: How is iCASP translating environmental science for resilient decision making?

During the COVID pandemic, it’s easy to lose sight of the impact climate change is already having on the health and wellbeing of people in the UK. Around 2,500 people lost their lives as a result of heatwaves in 2020. We saw the wettest month and individual day last year leading to widespread flooding across the country – costly, disruptive and stressful for all those affected.

Dr Ben Rabb and Dr Jenny Armstrong are Impact Translation Fellows (ITF) with iCASP – they recently worked with Bianca van Bavel from The Priestley Centre to contribute to a Climate Coalition report on the impact of climate change on health in the UK. Below is an extract from iCASP’s contribution to the Climate Coalition report.

2020 – another year of extreme weather

It was the joint hottest year on record globally and the 3rd warmest year on record in the UK. Winter 2019 – 2020 was particularly warm and wet, with three named storms causing widespread flooding damage and disruption. Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge contributed to the wettest February on record.

England had its driest May on record and the sunniest spring with water shortages becoming a concern. Summer was more unsettled – some areas received well above average rainfall replenishing river levels and reservoirs. Three heatwaves occurred in June and August notable for particularly warm temperatures at night. These conditions used to be rare in the UK and are particularly harmful to health.  Autumn saw the wettest day on record on Saturday, October 3rd – with widespread heavy rain following Storm Alex.

Soaring temperatures 

2,556 deaths occurred as a result of the heatwaves in 2020 – nearly three times as many as from events in 2019 and 2018. These deadly events are made more likely due to climate change – heatwaves in the UK in 2018 were made 30 times more likely due to man‐made greenhouse gas emissions. 

City dwellers are more exposed to extreme heat due to the Urban Heat Island effect (UHI) – caused by buildings, narrow roads, reduced vegetation, air pollution, traffic, domestic energy use and industrial processes. Temperatures can be up to 5°C warmer than surrounding areas which is most pronounced at night when the impact of heat on health and wellbeing is greatest. 

Average and extreme temperatures in the UK are rising. If global emissions continue temperatures in cities could increase by up to 0.45 to 0.81°C per decade between now and 2080. Risks to health include heat stroke, stress and exhaustion; dehydration; acute kidney injury; deteriorating heart disease and death. People over the age of 65 and those with chronic diseases or health conditions are particularly vulnerable – and this is growing due to an ageing population and poor health. In the UK, heat-related mortality in persons older than 65 years increased by 21 per cent between 2004 and 2018.

Increasing flood risk 

An increase in the impact of flooding is the number one climate risk in the UK. Around 1.8 million people are living in areas at significant risk of flooding – this could rise by over 40 percent to 2.6 million by the 2050s. More frequent and extreme flood events in the UK are having an impact on our physical health –  deaths from drowning, injuries, vector-borne and water-borne diseases, as well as mental health associated with experiences of trauma, disruption, and displacement. 

How iCASP is responding

Managing risks posed by extreme temperatures will require holistic responses and new plans from sectors beyond health such as transport, energy, water, food, agriculture, building and infrastructure. Dr Rabb is also an ITF for the iCASP project – Environmental Science for Health & Wellbeing in the Climate Emergency (E.SHAWE)

which is merging climate hazard information with local public health, transport, flood risk and other data to aid cross-sector decision making at local authorities in partnership with Public Health England and Leeds City Council.

Exploring ecosystems markets for the delivery of public goods in the UK

Transforming food production systems, to minimise environmental impacts and maximise public goods is a major policy challenge, given the costs of restoring damaged habitats and incentivising shifts to more sustainable production methods. To meet this challenge, Defra’s new Nature for Climate Fund, announced in the last budget, is designed to leverage new private investment in natural capital, and demand for the UK’s two national carbon markets for woodlands and peatland restoration are now outstripping supply. Investing in the delivery of public goods can benefit both commercial organisations whose business relies on ecosystem services, as well as landowners, land managers and the general public. This combination of public and private financing of natural capital improvement presents an opportunity to substantially increase the availability of funding for conservation and sustainable agriculture in the UK.

A new report, published today, explores the voluntary ecosystem services market in the UK, identifying key actors involved, trading platforms and supporting modelling tools. It was found that organisational structures that ensure transparency and reduce the potential for power asymmetries are important for successful implementation of natural capital projects. Farmer/landowner engagement presented a challenge for all ventures and it was important to treat farmers/landowners as equal transactional partners as they are fundamental in ensuring a long-term commitment to the delivery of mutually beneficial ecosystem services.

Additionality presented a concern, with potential for private investment to stall if it is not possible to demonstrate (through evidence) that interventions would not happen without it. Explicit integration and consideration of the wider social distribution of ecosystem services was low and there is limited evidence that the ventures were actively considering the wider social distribution of the ecosystems services or defining wider beneficiaries of the public goods that they deliver. The value of a given ecosystem service across all schemes was negotiated between demand and supply side actors based on market demand and ‘willingness to pay’. The legal instruments used to deliver each scheme varied within and between ventures, with direct contracts used in most cases. Ventures were mindful that binding legal arrangements (e.g. environmental covenants) could be a barrier to participation but recognised that contracts needed to be both robust and flexible, particularly in the case of long-term landscape interventions where suppliers and/or the interventions may change over time.

Understanding how private ecosystem markets operate and the synergies and differences between existing schemes and trading platforms can support better integration of public and private finance, and broaden the range of outcomes and the scale at which these can be delivered. To find out more about these ecosystem markets, and the challenges and opportunities for UK agriculture, you can view the new report here.

This news item was originally written by Arjan Gosal for the Global Food Security programme blog

We won an award…

Digital certificate of the Sustainability Awards 2020 outreach category awarded to iCASP
Certificate awarded to iCASP for winning the University of Leeds’ Sustainability 2020 Outreach category

At its very heart, iCASP has been designed to be about working in partnership with others across the region to generate benefits, create jobs and products, to save money and ensure that existing environmental research can be used to address the many different challenges we face.

So, we were delighted to win the University of Leeds’ Sustainability Awards 2020 Outreach category which is all about working beyond the University with a range of external organisations to achieve sustainable impacts. We are fortunate to work not only with our Springboard partners across the whole iCASP programme but with an even wider range of different organisations across our many projects as well.

While our nomination for this award focused mainly on the natural flood management work we do, it is just a small part of the wide range of activity we undertake with valued partners. You can find out more about our range of projects and which organisations and individuals are involved with them in the projects area of the website

Confluence 2020 – open for registration

Join us for Confluence 2020, which will be delivered through two webinars and a series of video project updates this year. We invite all partners, academics, stakeholders and those with an interest in catchment management to join us.

The two themed webinars will each cover several iCASP and iCASP-partner projects, including the links between them and impacts achieved to date, as well as providing an opportunity for a Q&A session and discussion of future project ideas, priorities and ways to maximise impact.

The video updates will outline progress on projects not covered in the webinars and will be made available on the iCASP website for anyone to view from 26 June onwards. The webinars will be recorded and made available online afterwards. A summary of the Q&As submitted and discussed during the webinars will also be made available.


Webinar 1: Increasing the climate resilience of Yorkshire’s cities, towns and villages (Friday 26 June, 14.00-16.00)

14.00 – 14.30 – Welcome to Confluence 2020 and overview of iCASP

14.30 – 16.00 – Themed session on ‘Increasing the climate resilience of Yorkshire’s cities, towns and villages’

  • Introduction (Ben Rabb)
  • Session 1: climate service projects and activities (Ben Rabb and tbc)
  • Session 2: flood forecasting projects and activities (Cathryn Birch and tbc)
  • Session 3: flood resilience projects and activities (Paola Sakai, Steve Wragg and Jenny Armstrong)
  • Session 4: green & blue infrastructure and interoperability projects and activities (David Dawson and Andy Brown)
  • Q&A and discussion

Webinar 2: Where next for Yorkshire’s soils? (Tuesday 30 June 09.30 – 11.30)

09.30 – 11.00 – Themed session on ‘Where next for Yorkshire’s soils’

  • Introduction (Jonathan Leake)
  • Session 1: public goods – soil health (Pippa Chapman)
  • Session 2: payment for outcomes – soil and NFM (Elizabeth Sullivan)
  • Session 3: CONSOLE – learning from the EU about agri-environmental schemes (Manolis Tyllianakis)
  • Session 4: integrated nitrogen management – supporting national policy development (Kevin Hicks)
  • Q&A and discussion

11.00 – 11.30 – Wrap-up and summary of the issues covered in this webinar and the previous one to outline ways forward and future project opportunities

Register for Webinar 1: Increasing the climate resilience of Yorkshire’s cities, towns and villages

Register for Webinar 2: Where next for Yorkshire’s soils?

The iCASP workstreams

There are seven iCASP workstreams, six of which focus on delivering solutions to problems across the catchment; the seventh overarches the whole programme. The six solution-focused workstreams are carbon sequestration, climate resilience, drought & flood risk mitigation, flood forecasting, sustainable agriculture and water quality.

An iCASP project will typically have elements of several workstreams within it demonstrating the integrated nature of the work we do. When developing a project, proposers are required to think about which of the workstreams the project delivers to.

Pie chart showing an equal split between the six different workstreams: carbon sequestration, climate resilience, drought & flood risk mitigation, flood forecasting, sustainable agriculture and water quality
The six solution-focused workstreams

The seventh workstream, that cuts across everything we do, is social & economic analysis. A range of activities are underway to assess how the programme is making a difference through collating and analysing the impacts of our work and understanding stakeholders and how they benefit. This information is reported to our funder, the Natural Environment Research Council, to demonstrate the work underway, the difference it has made and also increase learning about ways that future funding might best support and achieve solutions to the problems encountered in the world around us.

Each workstream has a workstream lead sitting on our Executive Management Group (EMG) to ensure projects draw upon all the available expertise across the iCASP programme.

Confluence 2020

Due to the current Covid-19 situation, the Confluence event we had planned for Friday 26 June will no longer be going ahead as a face to face meeting. Instead there will be series of webinars and video updates of projects.

We are currently finalising the details. If you would like to be kept notified, please drop us a line at

6 May 2020

Natural flood management measures in the landscape: a blend of research expertise and volunteering

As well as the various natural flood management (NFM) projects we have running within the iCASP programme at the moment, we also provide information and guidance to other organisations with their NFM projects.

A key aspect of this is providing advice about initial and ongoing monitoring of NFM measures. This means it’s possible to understand not only the impact the measures have had, but also to influence and inform the design, planning and installation of future measures, on the same and other sites to maximise their effectiveness. We also gather data and carry out analysis on the measuring and monitoring taking place.

Footage released in March from some sites in the Upper Calder valley showed the quantities of water that NFM measures have had to deal with over the past winter, especially when storms Ciara and Dennis arrived on our shores. The video footage below was captured by University of Leeds researchers as part of work being carried out for the National Trust who have been installing NFM measures across some of their land holdings.

Footage showing how fast water rose during Storms Ciara and Dennis (Daily Motion)

But we don’t just provide scientific advice and guidance on measuring, monitoring and installing NFM; through volunteers from the University of Leeds the measures are also being installed in different locations. One of the great things about NFM measures are that they can be installed by members of the community with appropriate guidance and management. Staff and student volunteers who live, study and work at the University of Leeds are involved with several NFM and tree planting schemes in Yorkshire.

Volunteering doesn’t just benefit the communities downstream of where the NFM measures have been installed, but the health and well-being of the volunteers as well. Over the last six months, volunteers from Australia, China, Malawi, Pakistan, Spain, UK and USA have helped build leaky dams and plant trees. The University set up the volunteering scheme to provide staff and students with an opportunity to get out and about, to meet new people and learn new skills all while doing valuable work in local communities near the university.

University of Leeds tree planting group on 12 March 2020 (volunteers were from Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Kyrgyzstan, Palestine, Philippines, UK and USA) Photo credit: Mike Leonard
University of Leeds student and staff volunteers building leaky dams in November 2019.
Photo credit: Mike Leonard

XiaoXiao Ma, a PhD student researching the poet John Clare, has volunteered on workdays organised by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust to install leaky dams and plant trees. While her research would not seem the most obvious fit with building leaky dams, she was keen to get first-hand experience of working on the land and connecting with nature and her research has subsequently benefited through her growing understanding of the things John Clare was writing about. She outlines two benefits she got from being a volunteer:

Building a leaky dam
Photo credit: Xiaoxiao Ma

“When I work in the field, when I use tools such as a hammer, a rake, or a spade to interact with the land, I can feel the interconnectedness between humanity and nature. We live on the land. Our life relies on the land. We are interdependent

Being a volunteer enables me to make new friends. I met Lee Galston in my first wild work day event and since then we have been very good friends. On the day when we first me, we found we shared common interests such as literature, walking, and nature. We fit in well with each other.”

Xiaoxiao Ma, University of Leeds

Lee Galston who works in the University’s Accommodation Team has also attended volunteer training days and recalls one led by Don Vine from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust as he outlined the work to be done and ensured this was done safely and effectively:

“Don was incredible at what he did, and a huge part of why I’ve enjoyed coming along to the volunteering days.  He was great at teaching us how to do the tasks on the day, but he was also generous with his vast knowledge of nature (trees and water, he told me, were his thing, he wasn’t too bothered about birds). Volunteering with him has genuinely changed the way I look at the natural world.

My favourite conversation we had with Don was actually the day Xiaoxiao and I met. She’s writing her PhD dissertation on the poet John Clare and he got really excited talking about Clare’s poetry, which is very nature centric. He told us that he and some friends would play a game of bingo based on Clare’s Shepherd’s Calendar, which has a poem for each month of the year, where they’d try to take a photo of anything they saw that was mentioned in that month’s poem.”

Lee Galston, University of Leeds
Happy volunteers at the end of a productive day
Photo credit: XiaoXiao Ma

Student volunteers at University of Leeds, drawn from 18 different countries around the world, have contributed to installing natural flood management measures on several sites and tree planting projects that have been informed by researchers to ensure they are sited appropriately for the role they are to play. Some of the measures are part of high profile flood risk reduction schemes, such as the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme, developed and funded in response to past flood events.

While this news article was being written, we heard the very sad news that Don Vine, who coordinated the activities of many of the volunteers on Yorkshire Wildlife Trust NFM workdays, had suddenly passed away a few weeks previously. He led volunteer workdays that the University was involved with for many years and clearly made an incredible impression on the people he worked with as became clear when I contacted volunteers and volunteer coordinators to write this news piece. The leaky dams he built with volunteers, and the trees planted to help reduce flood risk to communities across the region, remain dotted across the landscape he clearly loved and felt passionate about.

News articles about different NFM projects that iCASP and University of Leeds have contributed to:

Footage of water levels rising during storms Ciara and Dennis

Leaky dams in the Upper Aire catchment

Tree planting in Gargrave

Winter 2020 newsletter

We’ve just issued our winter newsletter to give you an update on what we have been up to over the last few months.

You can access the Winter 2020 Newsletter and also previous issues from the last two years. To get the newsletter direct to your mailbox 4 times a year, please subscribe