After the flood


Prizewinning graduate Evan Brett

Evan Bett was in his second year studying BSc Hons Physical Geography at Lancaster University when Storm Desmond hit the city, causing devastating floods.

“Storm Desmond was a really interesting experience. I was living in a student house and was lucky because I wasn’t actually flooded myself, but I did see at first hand the impact it could have, with the widespread power-cuts and disruption.”

Evan was already becoming fascinated with hydrology, and living through Storm Desmond only increased his interest: “I liked hydrology mainly because it is so relevant, particularly in this country right now. Every winter severe flooding occurs, so it is important people are trained in hydrology so we can find ways to deal with it.”

Evan was also pretty certain he wanted to go into teaching when he graduated. So he asked one of his lecturers at the Lancaster Environment Centre, Dr Nick Chappell, if he could help out with a first year field trip to a spectacular cave system in the local Yorkshire Dales.

“Nick was kind and let me tag along. It was a really good way to get experience of undergraduate teaching and I ended up having a really good relationship with Nick.”

The following year Evan was one of Nick’s paid assistants on the field trip, and when he was looking for a relevant postgraduate course the MSc in Sustainable Water Management at Lancaster was an obvious choice.

“I knew I enjoyed hydrology, flooding and flood management, and I knew it would be particularly beneficial to me if went into teaching. Hydrology is one of the fundamental components of any geography course at school.”

When Evan was choosing his final dissertation subject he applied to work with Nick again, as one of four master’s students helping with a Natural Flood Management research project looking at how woodland might lower soil moisture and so reduce flooding risk.

“There is currently very little soil moisture data available for flood management experts to use to establish how effective woodland creation schemes could be.

“We were using a soil moisture probe to measure soil moisture in an area of woodland and adjacent pastureland to see if there was any significant difference between the two: the expectation was that trees would soak up more water and reduce the likelihood of overland flow.”

But ironically, just when Evan wanted lots of rain for research purposes, there was an uncharacteristic heatwave.

“It was incredibly dry, so the moisture probe wouldn’t go all the way into the soil and the rods kept snapping. Nick supplied so much support over that year. It took a long time but I did eventually manage to get the data that I needed.”

The initial results showed no difference in soil moisture between woodland and pasture during the drought conditions. It was only after a major rain storm that the measurements showed that the woodland did indeed soak up water and dry out the soil.

By then Evan had been accepted on the School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) scheme, where he would be trained while working in schools as a teacher.

“Nick suggested incorporating an element of education within the dissertation. So I took my moisture probe to the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe, where I’d be doing my main teacher training placement. I got a group of year 10 students to use the same data-collection methods as I was using to see if the concept could work at school level. 

“The idea was that if it worked, maybe we could roll it out to other schools across the country and use it to create a large-scale data set. The boys did brilliantly and we got the results I had hoped for.”

Evan’s dissertation was well received, and he was awarded the Keith Beven Hydrology Prize for his MSc dissertation, awarded annually by one of the world’s leading hydrologists and Fellow of the Royal Society of London.

“I really enjoyed being able to provide data which I know in the long run will be useful to people like Nick and Keith Beven, who are so influential in the hydrology world.

“There is so little soil moisture data available right now, so it’s a good feeling to be involved in one of the only datasets available. It will be beneficial to people across the country.”

Evan has now started his placement at the Royal Grammar School teaching geography to 11-18 year olds and is loving it. “I’m having the time of my life: I’m shattered but really enjoying it.”

He tells his students stories about Storm Desmond, bringing Geography to life: “I relate my experience of what a flood can do, the loss of power, the loss of internet, which they all hook onto fairly quickly. It adds an extra dimension when you can relate what you are teaching to your life experience.”

Nick Chappell added “Throughout Evan’s time at Lancaster he was highly motivated and conscientious in his studies. He contributed as much to the department as he gained from our teaching, and will continue to inspire the next generation of geographers. Evan and those students he teaches have a bright future ahead.”

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