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2nd March 2022

Taking a collaborative approach in the water sector: A review of the Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Partnership

Front page to the MGSDP report All photographs courtesy of: The Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Partnership

The Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Partnership (MGSDP) is a non-statutory partnership between public bodies involved in managing surface water, water quality, flood risk, investment planning and economic delivery, with a vision to ‘Sustainably Drain Glasgow’. The MGSDP began following severe flooding in July 2002 in the East End of Glasgow. It was recognised that an integrated strategy to master planning was required to meet the needs of all stakeholders as responsibilities for stormwater management in Scotland are divided between several parties, with conflicting statutory duties and unaligned funding streams making collaboration difficult.

The Partnership vision is to “transform how the city region thinks about, and manages rainfall, to end uncontrolled flooding and improve water quality”. The vision provides a strategic focus and is supported by five objectives and eight guiding principles.

As the MGSDP enters its next phase, now is an ideal time to take stock of the gains made, study its impact, and fully understand how the knowledge gained can be used to address challenges other cities in Scotland face. In the coming decade the scientific, political and public aspirations to mitigate climate change impacts will result in increased demand for investment in adaptive approaches and collaborative working. To support the MGSDP and inform policy developments, the research team reviewed how it has operated to identify the lessons learnt. To deliver this, a literature review was undertaken, consultation data gathered, case studies developed, and recommendations made.

Lessons learnt are considered in the context of both the MGSDP’s future and the development of new partnerships.

Lessons learnt from the MGSDP: (1) A coordinator is required to drive the partnership working process and sustain strong collaborative groups; (2) Knowledge building is crucial to avoid narrow-focussed partnerships and deliver broad agendas; (3) Being open, honest and sharing information builds trust and helps overcome barriers such as lack of equity and misaligned policy/funding cycles.

Lessons learnt for Policy Makers: (1) robust coordination maintains focus on a co-developed vision; (2) Overlapping responsibilities and misaligned funding cycles are challenges to efficient progress; (3) Establishing trust, leads to enhanced problem solving and a willingness to take risks.

31st January 2022

A state of knowledge overview of identified pathways of diffuse pollutants to the water environment

Front cover image Cover photographs: (Tramlines, soil erosion and sward lifter) courtesy of: Joanna Cloy and Nikki  Baggaley

Pathways of diffuse phosphorus and nitrogen pollution from agriculture to the water environment is complex and, sometimes, poorly understood. This report provides a review of the current state of knowledge of several plausible pathways: i) surface runoff and soil erosion, exacerbated by soil compaction and structural degradation ii) role of tramlines, iii) leaching through drain-flow and iv) hotspots that contribute greater than average pollutant loads due to the combined effect of land management intensity and soil properties. Focussing on Scotland we reviewed the relevant evidence for each of these pathways, their scale and extent, preventative measures and solutions to minimise pollutant losses, the costs and impacts on water quality associated with these preventative measures and solutions, as well as identifying key knowledge gaps and providing recommendations for future research.

Key findings from this overview concluded that standard agricultural practices are the main source of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution rather than poor nutrient management practices in Scotland. Spatial modelling showed that surface runoff and erosion are the principle source of phosphorus loss in arable soils while phosphorus loss through drains is also a key pathway, particularly in improved grasslands on soils with artificial drainage. Good soil nutrient management such as the use of a fertiliser plan linked to soil sampling for nutrient status and soil pH is a simple and cost-effective measure for minimising pollutant losses. Finally, it was found that more research is needed across all pathways and there are many knowledge gaps, particularly being able to quantify diffuse pollution from ‘hotspots’ in fields within Scottish catchments and our understanding of the impacts of recommended preventative measures and solutions on water quality.

Knowledge transfer products, including a podcast and video featuring farmers, a technical video and information sheets, have also been produced to communicate key messages about good soil management practices to farmers and landowners. These can be accessed from the Farming and Water Scotland website

24th January 2022

Effective future communication of flood risk in Scotland

Report Front Page Photos: Courtesy of GCU staff

Effective future communication of flood risk in Scotland

This project investigated how to effectively communicate future flood risk and flood risk-related climate change in Scotland, including considering tools and methodologies that currenty exist, and how flood risk can be communicated more effectively to technical and non-technical audiences in future. It conducted a Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) of literature alongside interviews and workshops with key stakeholders.

This study found that the Scottish public’s current awareness and understanding of flood risk is low, and that future flood risk communication approaches should be mindful of the different needs of different audiences within the diverse Scottish public. Further, communication messages that are very complex to understand, such as return periods (e.g. a 1 in 100-year flood'), should be avoided and new approaches developed for both technical and non-technical audiences. These should be developed with local communities to encourage collective action, enhance community resilience, and promote an empowering shared social identity of preparedness in place.

The project also found that communicating flood risk without providing additional supporting actions to prevent or mitigate that risk can increase maladaptive coping strategies, such as denial or wishful thinking. Therefore, the study concluded that effective future flood risk communication should include recommended actions that are affordable, achievable and appropriate to the socioeconomic and demographic status of diverse Scottish households.

A Smart Guide to Flood Risk Communication

Based on data reported in the Effective Future Communication of Flood Risk in Scotland report, the Glasgow Caledonian Univesity team created accessible tools for technical and non-technical audiences that contextualise the communication of flood risk management in Scotland. This supplementary information and diagrams aim to support Awareness Raising - Actions in SEPA and local authorities’ Flood Risk Management Plans/Local Plan by aiding the understanding of social and demographic contexts in which the flood risk awareness communication takes place. These diagrams also illustrate how, when and where these could be effectively used.

17th January 2022

Establishing the potential influence of beaver activity on the functioning of rivers and streams and water resource management in Scotland

Beaver Report Front Cover Cover photos: Left and top right photos courtesy of Katya Dimitrova-Petrova. Middle photo  courtesy of Josie Geris.

Beavers are well known for their ability to transform the environment through dam building and other activities. This report provides an evidence review of the role of beavers in modifying physical processes, and the potential benefits they may bring for Scottish rivers, streams and water resources. It will inform the dialogue on the benefits and limitations of beaver expansion in Scotland, including where trade-offs are required.

The work involved two main ways of capturing evidence. Firstly, an international literature review was carried out that collected quantifiable evidence on the effects of beaver dam building on water quantity and quality and the geomorphological characteristics of rivers and streams. Confidence levels for the evidence of effects were determined based on the amount of evidence and the level of agreement between different evidence sources. Secondly, a group of beaver experts worked together to discuss and interpret the findings of the literature review, and to collectively identify remaining knowledge gaps.

Most of the evidence of beaver activity effects on streams and rivers points to positive contributions to local ecosystem services, including water supply and purification, wetland creation and river restoration. Enabling these and other positive contributions may also involve compromises and care must be taken to manage any disbenefits, such as local loss of land. The majority of evidence has been recorded at the local scale (up to 1km2) and more work is required to establish the effects of beaver dam building activities at larger scales. The review also highlighted a lack of knowledge on the site-specific controls on the magnitude of beaver effects, which limits transferability of observed effects to other sites with different characteristics. Addressing these gaps requires more empirical research supported by modelling. Recommendations based on the outcomes of the report also include that the potential for beaver activity to contribute to ecosystem services should be considered in relevant riparian management appraisals. However, discussion with landowners and wider societal groups is required to inform such appraisals and mitigate local adverse effects of beaver activity. 

Key findings from the project are summarised in the Policy Note.

30th November 2021

The impact of shadow flicker or pulsating shadow effect, caused by wind turbine blades, on Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)

Image: Wind turbine next to water; Cover photographs courtesy of: Jennifer Dodd (Edinburgh Napier University) and Marine Scotland  Science.

As the need for onshore wind energy expands, such climate adaptation measures may have unintended and potentially significant influences on how fish respond when situated next to rivers or streams. The aim of this project was to examine evidence of potential impacts of shadow flicker, from wind turbine blades, on Atlantic salmon in the context of species conservation management and climate mitigation strategy in Scotland. Our current understanding of the possible effects of shadow flicker on Atlantic salmon was investigated by reviewing the available literature (peer-reviewed and grey from national and international sources) for existing studies of a similar or relevant nature. Various databases and web-based search engines were used to identify these studies, relevant information was extracted and summarised, and potential impacts across the salmon’s lifecycle identified. There was no direct evidence available, either from laboratory experiments or studies of wild fish, that describe the effects of shadow flicker on Atlantic salmon or any other fish species. Based on the available literature, and our expert opinion, there is currently insufficient evidence to support or refute any biological or ecological impact of shadow flicker on Atlantic salmon. The review has highlighted a lack of basic understanding of the role light patterns may play for Atlantic salmon in rivers and further research is recommended. At present there is no evidence to support any change to related policy guidance. However, under the precautionary principle, some advice for best practice might be advised to prevent shadow flicker being cast on river surfaces. Where appropriate, potential mitigation methods were identified that could reduce any impacts on Atlantic salmon should impacts of shadow flicker on fish be demonstrated in the future.

21st October 2021

Performance metrics from the past 5 years of CREW

Performance metrics from the past 5 years of CREW
Performance metrics for the past 5 years of CREW
21st October 2021

Scottish One Health AMR Register (SOHAR)

SOHAR report front cover

Living within a viral pandemic has brought home the importance of our relationship with microbes. Yet we are in the midst of another microbial risk that threatens to have a much larger impact on our lives. Microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi or protists) that cause disease in humans, animals or plants are normally treated with antimicrobial drugs to control their numbers. Drug use has become routine since Alexander Fleming’s famous discovery of penicillin, in public health, veterinary practice and crop protection. Since all microbes are living entities, they adapt and evolve, generating resistance to the drugs, to overcome their function. The unintended consequence from misuse or dissemination of the pharmaceuticals has led to widespread resistance, even in microbes that were previously benign. Antimicrobial resistant (AMR) microbes are transmitted through the same pathways as pathogenic (harmful) microbes, whether in indoor or outdoor environments. Combined with the low level of development of novel drugs to treat AMR microbes, this has left us in a critical state.

To address this problem, the World Health Organisation (WHO) developed a coordinated global response, enabling countries to develop National Action Plans to combat AMR. The action plans are built on five principles to improve awareness and understanding of the problem, strengthen the scientific evidence-base, reduce the incidence of human infections with AMR microbes, optimise pharmaceutical use in human and animal health, and invest in new diagnostics, vaccines and interventions. To understand how the action plans are addressed nationally, it is necessary to record the breadth and scope of relevant activities. Therefore, this project aimed to determine activities relating to AMR research associated with Scotland that had taken place in the past five years, and to relate them to the UK National Action Plan (2019-2024). It generated a register of activities: the Scottish One Health AMR register (SOHAR).

Outcomes: The project identified a large number of AMR-related activities, principally related to animal and human health. The lowest representation related to transmission from food or wildlife, with representation for transmission from the environment and water mid-range. A proportion of activities related to the social sciences. Mapping the activities to the UK action plan revealed a strength for Scottish-associated research related to AMR in animals, for laboratory capacity and surveillance of AMR in animals and understanding AMR spread between humans, animals and the environment. Another strong area was in lowering the burden of human infection, by turning research into practice for effective infection prevention and control (IPC). Areas with limited representation were in the translational pipeline for end-user application, although this could reflect how the data was collected. Overall, the register has the potential to deliver multiple impacts allowing stakeholders and organisations to identify the strengths, or areas that need to be addressed in more detail. The report recommends continuance of the register and accessibility in the public domain.

15th September 2021

The epidemiology and disease burden potential relating to private water supplies in Scotland

Epidemiology PWS (Private water supplies) Cover photographs: Courtesy of Claire Abel, James Hutton Institute

Around 3.3% of Scotland’s population (182,516 people) are served by private water supplies (PWS) together with transient visitors such as tourists. This project sought to develop an understanding of the epidemiology and disease burden contribution of PWS in Scotland on the public health of the populations (indigenous and transient) exposed to the PWS. The project report comprises a risk profile to provide current knowledge about the risks of gastrointestinal pathogens associated with private water supplies in Scotland. This is supplemented with preliminary work looking at the linkage of human gastrointestinal illness with private water supply microbiological failures and the scoping out of a quantitative microbiological risk assessment approach for PWS in Scotland. 

13th September 2021

Aerosol/droplet sampling of wastewater for SARS-CoV-2

Aerosol Report Front Cover Cover photographs courtesy of: Michael Gormley, David Kelly and David Campbell (Heriot Watt  University

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 - caused by the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus - scientists, engineers and epidemiologists have grappled with obtaining information about the extent of the prevalence of infected people in the community in different settings. Understanding community prevalence is an essential component of the fight against the virus, and plays a major role in informing public health officials and help Governments plan for the inevitable waves of infection.  Wastewater based epidemiology (WBE), in which the extent of infection in a community can be assessed by sampling and identifying viral RNA in wastewater, has been implemented in Scotland, rest of UK and elsewhere to help provide epidemiology data. This has been very successful in the main, however, the resolution of the system tends to be at wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) catchment level or major sewer lines leading to the WWTP.

In some cases it may be necessary to assess the level of infection close to the source so that data can be obtained at a building or building complex level. This project, led by Prof. Michael Gormley (Heriot Watt University) and sponsored by CREW, sought to investigate and prove the concept of detecting viral RNA in aerosols and droplets found in building sanitary plumbing systems (SPS). The hypothesis tested was that when a toilet (which contains faeces, urine, or vomit of a person infected with SARS-CoV-2) is flushed, the virus will be present in the aerosols and droplets generated within the system, and then be carried in the airstreams. Sampling the airstreams will capture the aerosols and droplets which can then the tested for the presence of viral RNA.

Findings: The research was carried out on a dedicated 2-storey SPS test rig with the capability to flush micro-organisms and detect their transport across two floors of a building.  The research demonstrated that viral RNA can be detected using bioaerosol sampling methods within a building’s sanitary plumbing system and so very near-source sampling is possible. The work also identified some practical implications for WBE in this setting, for example, sampling aerosols from SPS is influenced by environmental and water chemistry conditions, e.g. relative humidity and dissolved salts within the system.  It was also discovered that the most effective location to detect viral RNA is near the base of the vertical stack or from the horizontal collection drain at the bottom of the vertical stack, just before it connects with the main sewer using passive methods, thus greatly simplifying sampling. This proof of concept investigation has established effective very near-source sampling techniques in a laboratory setting and the next phase will be to test in live buildings which is already underway.

8th September 2021

Phosphorus recycling possibilities considering catchment and local agricultural system benefits: a review and regional Scottish case study

P Flows Report_Front Cover Cover photographs courtesy of:

This project was developed to downscale aspects of Scotland’s country-scale phosphorus (P) mass balance by looking at potential for regional recycling. The research firstly examined the background context of P sustainability in terms of recycled P sources, usage opportunities and constraints via a literature review. Secondly a case study, with a waterbody to regional basis, was developed to examine coupling that region’s P-rich resources from wastes with the local agricultural land for goals to both offset the raw imported resource of chemical phosphate fertiliser and limit P pollution of waters. Factors such as material availability, compositions, costs and transport were examined alongside the spatial distribution of agricultural land, crop usage constraints and basic environmental pollution risks.

Initial case study selection of a waterbody with P water quality failure led to examining a rural catchment bordering a city with extensive availability of current and potential recyclable P in excess of the catchment farmland. The inventories of available materials within municipal wastewater and commercial digestate sectors were complex to assemble. To effectively utilise the recycled P masses materials as fertiliser replacement not exceeding crop requirements it was necessary to go beyond the catchment bounds to a larger region of increased planning complexity (in terms of road transport distances, multiple planning boundaries). Simplifications were necessary in the assessment of swapping environmental risks between chemical and recycled P fertiliser forms, since practical tools and models are not yet available across diverse material compositions, soil and crop management combinations.


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