In February 2020, England and Wales experienced the wettest month since records began in 1766 (Met Office). Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis led to widespread flooding and a national conversation about flood management.
Dr Jess Neumann's research is helping to find ways to simultaneously reduce flood risk and deliver co-benefits (for example, increased biodiversity) at the catchment scale using nature-based solutions such as targeted tree planting, soil and land management and hedgerow retention.
Through her research Jess is working with local communities affected by flooding including farmers, the Environment Agency, Water Companies, research institutions (including the British Geological Survey and European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts), policymakers and the media.
Jess is very much turning the national conversation on flood management into strategy and action, and is bringing University of Reading students on this journey.
Jess is one of many renowned academics within a community recognised for its research strength. The University of Reading ranked 3rd in the UK for research power in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences (Times Higher Education, Institutions Ranked by Subject, based on its analysis of the latest REF 2021).
Research expertise in the Department feeds directly into the topics students study throughout their degree, placing them at the cutting edge of developments, not just learning from books.
“I have known a wonderful group of students over the years who have helped contribute to my research, for example with their dissertations, master's and PhD theses and Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) placements.
"This has included the collection of primary data, writing papers, creating maps and, in some cases, they have taught me new approaches.
"Input from my students has been invaluable and they appreciate having the opportunity to experience working on research projects and engaging with different stakeholders which is great preparation for their employment after University."
Jess is very much helping to train the next generation of physical geographers through her teaching at Reading, with particular expertise in Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
GIS can briefly be described as an important framework for computer-based mapping and data analysis.
Using the latest industry-standard software (ESRI ArcGIS Pro) students can engage with GIS teaching through face-to-face and online delivery, which gives them access to the software at any time, in any place.
Solving real-world problems
“My students have the opportunity to work on GIS projects that solve real-world problems relating to my research area, such as using map data to find suitable sites for new planting for flood risk reduction. This way they get the opportunity to learn key skills but also stay engaged in areas of active flood research."
Fieldwork is also an increasingly important component of many modules, from GIS mapping on the University campus to exploring other real-world settings in the UK and abroad.
“I deliver a fair amount of field teaching (for example, on flooding and ecosystem services on the Somerset Levels) and supervise undergraduate dissertations and MSc research projects on flooding, nature-based solutions, biodiversity conservation, GIS and mapping.”
Jess supports undergraduate teaching and PhD supervision, and is also Programme Director for the MSc Environmental Management.
The thriving research community at Reading is supported by the ability for departments to work together across all levels of study, to innovate and work together to a better future.
“The Department of Geography and Environmental Science is very interdisciplinary. I've worked closely with researchers from other schools including Agriculture, Policy & Development, Biological Sciences and Real Estate & Planning – it's great to bring together a wide range of ideas and expertise.
"We also co-deliver some of our teaching."
“For me personally, I find it very rewarding when your research can be used to change policy or operations – for example, I've recently been involved in a project with Water@Reading where we've worked closely to support the Environment Agency with their transition to using a new form of operational flood forecasts.”