Climate change in coastal communities stage 2: Scotland

Recently, we had the pleasure of the second bilateral visit for our Scotland-Vietnam collaboration on climate change in coastal communities, funded by the British Academy International Partnership and Mobility scheme and also supported by an Official Development Assistance grant from the Scottish Funding Council. On this occasion it was the turn of the Institute of Human Geography in the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences to do the traveling, as my Co-PI Dr Nguyen Song Tung and her colleagues Dr Pham Thi Tram and Nguyen Thi Kim Dung came to Aberdeen for a week to continue our fieldwork and research development activities.

Left-right: Prof Stephen Vertigans, Dr Leslie Mabon, Dr Linda Smith, Dr Nguyen Song Tung, Beate Houette, Nguyen Thi Kim Dung, Dr Natascha Mueller-Hirth, Dr Chris Yuill, Dr Pham Thi Tram

Since the visit to Hanoi back in May, as PI for the Scotland side I have been working to draw themes out of our data that can connect up two nations facing very different climate change challenges. Across the RGU and IHGeo teams, we have come to understand that Nam Dinh Province and Aberdeenshire, whilst very different in absolute terms, are both coastal regions at the mouth of major rivers where climate change has the potential to negatively affect livelihoods. Having done interviews in Xuan Thuy National Park, the significance of ecosystem health in guarding against the worst effects of climate change and sustaining societal wellbeing has also come to the fore. With a bit of preparation and a slice of good fortune, as I’ll now explain we managed to collect a highly comparable dataset in Aberdeenshire over the course of the week.

Forvie National Nature Reserve

First field visit was to Forvie National Nature Reserve, at the mouth of the River Ythan. Like Xuan Thuy National Park, this is part of a wetland area protected by the Ramsar Convention. Both Forvie and Xuan Thuy are fragile areas, where managers are having to work hard to protect biodiversity from human threats. From my perspective, the biggest problem is trying to get overseas visitors to take you seriously when you try to explain that one of the main threats to the Sites of Special Scientific Interest adjacent to Forvie is Donald Trump and his golf course… Anyhow, during our visit to Forvie, we were fortunate to be accompanied by Reserve Manager Annabel Drysdale, some glorious sunshine, and a squadron of 150-odd seals.

The following day we were joined by Finlay Bennet of Marine Scotland Science, who came to talk about his group’s work in relation to climate change and their interest in adaptive management. Over the course of an hour and a half he delivered a session more structured, educational and downright interesting than anything I could ever hope to do, with a strong applied focus that fits well with IHGeo’s own remit. We learned about the origins of adaptive management, its value and role in decision-making under situations of high uncertainty with a strong value dimension, and its potential applications. One of the overriding messages was that – as is so often the case in environmental governance – it is often easier to see when things aren’t going well, or when people aren’t doing adaptive management, than when they are. The fact I can remember all of the content of the session without referring to my notes speaks volumes about the manner in which it was delivered. Finlay, if you’re reading and ever feel like switching jobs, you know where I am.

Finlay Bennet of Marine Scotland Science discussing adaptive management

The third and final piece of fieldwork had us moving around within the confine of Aberdeen City. Countryside Officer Ian Talboys guided us round the Seaton Park Wetland Project, a new wetland established in 2016 in response to drainage challenges arising from flooding and ongoing precipitation. It serves the triple purpose of flood mitigation via retention and drainage, biodiversity protection, and social benefit. Perhaps less fortunately for Tung, Dung and Tram, the site visit turned out to be significantly colder, windier and wetter than the 35 degree heat of Hanoi they had left. Happily we stumbled across a small stall which, as well as selling vegetables from nearby allotments, was also dispensing hot tea and coffee. Warmed up, we then made our way over to Marischal College, where Aberdeen City Council planner Alison Leslie talked us through the progress that’s been made on Aberdeen Adapts – Aberdeen City’s climate change adaptation plan. This was an excellent way to end the week, not least because by interviewing a regional climate adaptation planner we mirrored exactly the very first interview we did in Nam Dinh Province, where we all piled into the meeting room of the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development and questioned the province’s climate adaptation governors.

Meeting with Alison Leslie of Aberdeen Adapts/Aberdeen City Council

In-between times, we also managed to squeeze in a full-day seminar to introduce our collaborators to some of the research we do at RGU, hold a half-day paper writing workshop (the output of which will be submitted for peer review by the end of this month), and have a session on upcoming funding calls we are going to apply to as a next step. All this, plus the field visits, may go some way to explaining why I slept until 2pm on the Saturday.

I want to finish this post by extending a huge thanks to our colleagues from IHGeo. They coped admirably with freezing temperatures, lost luggage, local accents, jet-lag, Scottish university canteen food and many other things. This year has been very important in terms of building a base and getting to know one another, and from our side at least we have come to realise Dr Tung and her team are great people to work with. We miss them already! I look forward to continuing the discussion online to draw out the findings from this specific project, which still has a couple of months to run, and hopefully developing our collaboration into the future.

Thanks are extended to the British Academy for funding our Scotland-Vietnam collaborative project on climate change and coastal communities through an International Partnership and Mobility grant; and to the Scottish Funding Council for providing support to allow us to undertake more in-depth fieldwork and capacity-building within the project through Official Development Assistance funding.

And as a bonus…a ‘same but different’ series, showing us doing the same things in Vietnam and Scotland!

Outside the regional government offices
Field visit to a Ramsar site
Coffee break during fieldwork
Institute canteen food
Interviewing regional climate adaptation planners

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