Science blog

18 July 2014

British Library connecting with the flooding community

Johanna Kieniewicz reflects on Envia, a new tool for flooding researchers and practitioners

This past winter, the UK received unprecedented amounts of rainfall. I returned from Christmas holidays to find a big damp patch on a south-facing wall of our Victorian terrace house. Our mild inconvenience was nothing compare to others across England who faced disaster, as rivers overtopped their banks, flooding communities for weeks on end.

A debate played out in the press about whether dredging the Parrett and Tone rivers might have saved the Somerset Levels. The then Chair of the Environment Agency, Lord Chris Smith,  defended the work of his organisation, standing firm in the face of enormous pressure from politicians and communities alike. In the end, pumps were imported from The Netherlands that sucked the water away, and some dredging is now planned. In the wake of this, the Chartered Institute for Water and Environmental Management published an interesting report: Flooding and Dredging: A Reality Check, in which they examined the impact of dredging rivers on flooding. They concluded that although dredging may benefit flood risk management in some cases, it is not a standalone solution and should be viewed as part of a larger suite of tools and that the risks that it poses must be well understood at a local level.

Flooded farmland in the Somerset Levels (Image: Shutterstock)



To me, the debate whether to dredge or not highlighted the importance of the scientific evidence base to flooding researchers and practitioners. The ability to easily access trustworthy information quickly, particularly in a crisis, is of paramount importance. Intuition might say that if a river that accumulates sediment over time is flooding, then it might be a good idea to dredge it from time to time. Fair enough. But evidence also suggests this may speed up the movement of flood water (increasing risks to communities upstream), destabilise river banks and result in loss of fluvial and floodplain habitats. I can’t say whether the dredging debate would have played out any differently, had politicians and the public had better access to information. However, it did emphasise how important it is for everyone involved in tackling flooding—from local authorities, to charities, to academics, to the Environment Agency-- has the very best evidence available.

At the British Library, we are keen to help make that possible. A few years back, we started to look at whether we could make more of our environmental science collections, providing instant access to information online, to anyone, anywhere, for free. To that end, we now have Envia, a new tool that allows users to discover and access a curated selection of reports (including UK government, EU and more), PhD theses, and data resources online. It’s a simple search box, either on the Envia website, or something embeddable in browsers or webpages, that you can use to search over a wide variety of content.  We had good evidence from our own research that flooding would be remain a high priority across the environment sector in the UK, and so decided to focus on content relevant to flooding experts for our pilot.



Over the past few months, we’ve been adding more content and functionality that will make Envia as useful as possible to people.

New Content – Envia will now connect you to reports from EU institutions on topics including water management, meteorology, coastal protection, climate change and more. We have developed our selection relating to the social impacts of flooding, and flooding and habitat management. We are also experimenting with content that you may need to pay for in order to access.

New Layout –Envia now has a cleaner layout that also displays beautifully on your smartphone or tablet computer. So now, whether in the field or whilst travelling, you can search and discover environmental information.

New Functionality –Envia now supports the export of search results by email, as well as in formats suitable for Refworks and Endnote.

So, if you are a flooding researcher or practitioner, or anyone interested in research and policy information relevant to flooding , do please try Envia, and tell your colleagues. We are keen to know how we might make Envia more useful to you, so don’t hesitate to give contact us at

While Envia itself might not be able to hold back the waters of the future floods that will undoubtedly come our way, we hope that it may help those in search of the evidence they need to make the very best decisions possible to protect homes, businesses and habitats.


The comments to this entry are closed.