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University hosts largest geography conference in Europe

Exeter researchers will join delegates from across Europe to present work at the Royal Geographical Society (with Institute of British Geographers) Annual International Conference, hosted by the University of Exeter.

The conference, which takes place at the Streatham Campus from September 1–4, is the largest geography conference in Europe, with more than 300 sessions and 1,100 papers being presented. Formed in 1830 for 'the advancement of geographical science', the RGS develops, supports and promotes geographical research, expeditions and fieldwork, education, public engagement, and geography input to policy.

Professor John Wylie, Head of Geography at Exeter said ‘we’re delighted that the RGS-IBG Conference is being hosted by the University of Exeter in 2015. The conference will showcase the strength and diversity of geographical research in the UK and internationally – and of course, its strength at Exeter itself. Over 50 researchers and postgraduates from Exeter will be presenting their work on topics as diverse as creative geographies, storytelling, re-wilding, and climate change.

Dr Catherine Butler from Geography at the University of Exeter will present research she led that shows how long-term wellbeing is adversely affected by floods over both short-term and longer timescales. The research found that greater levels of community and institutional support services are needed to help people recover from the impact of flooding.

Furthermore, stress, anxiety and emotional distress are neither restricted to those whose homes have been flooded nor just to the period of time when water is present in a person’s home. In some cases, effects on wellbeing are still acutely experienced more than a year on from the flood itself.

Dr Butler said: “The ability of people to withstand and be resilient to long-duration flooding like we saw in Somerset is limited. The importance of community and institutional support cannot be overstated as a mechanism for ensuring wellbeing and recovery.”

The research also provides insights into the reasons for conflict between those affected by floods and those responsible for managing floods during the aftermath. The study examines the implications of the conflict for political decision-making and for longer-term responses to floods.

Dr Roos den Uyl and Dr Duncan Russel from Politics at the University of Exeter will present a study on the Dawlish railway line that finds the UK’s institutional setting not geared to addressing the impacts of climate change.

The UK’s fragmented institutional setting has prevented a climate change adaptation plan for the Dawlish railway line following the February 2014 extreme weather events. After these extreme events, the sea wall was closed for repairs for two months and discussion intensified around relocation of the railway and enhancing the resilience of the current line.

Dr Roos den Uyl said: “Although the impacts of climate change are starting to draw more and more attention, our research indicates that the UK’s institutional setting is not geared towards actually addressing these impacts in practice.

“Given the current context of austerity, and the fact that the current UK government policy is not oriented towards prioritising climate change adaption and providing local authorities with more resources, this lack of action is not likely to change in the future.”

Climate change scenarios differ in their predictions for the local area, but overall, an increase in storm surges contributing to wave strength and cliff erosion is expected. Any degree of sea level rise is expected to further reduce the resilience of the Dawlish railway line.

Date: 2 September 2015

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