MSc by Research success for CCRI’s Kate Smith

Kate Smith

We are delighted to report that CCRI research student, Kate Smith, has successfully completed her MSc by Research degree.

Kate was supervised by Rob Berry, Chris Short (both CCRI) and Lucy Clarke (School of Natural and Social Sciences, University of Gloucestershire) and her degree involved evaluating the use of 3D landscape visualisation technology (Google Earth) for enhancing and improving participation in Natural Flood Management, which is an approach to the sustainable management and reduction of flood risk that that can generate wider benefits for the environment and communities.

Kate has written a blog concerning her experiences and research as a MSc by Research student in the CCRI, which we are pleased to publish below:


“In 2016 I enrolled on my MSc by Research degree with CCRI. I was keen to develop my skills in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and apply them in a practical scenario in the water environment and sustainable catchment planning. An opportunity arose to base my research on the River Isbourne catchment, located in the Cotswolds to the north of Cheltenham, which suffered significant flooding in 2007. The University of Gloucestershire, along with other organisations, were supporting the Isbourne Catchment Group (ICG) with the development of a Natural Flood Management (NFM) project to address the issues it faces.

NFM is an approach to the sustainable management and reduction of flood risk that that can generate wider benefits for the environment and communities. Aiming to slow the flow of water into and through river channels it uses numerous small, nature-based interventions in the landscape over a wider catchment area. Achieving an effective level of change through NFM requires the input and collaboration of a wide range of individuals and agencies. One challenge in the development of projects at this scale is engaging these stakeholders; effective communication of information is vital to generate and retain interest. Detailed reports can often be too long or technical and not everyone shares my fascination for maps. Recent developments in technology allow information to be presented using 3D landscape visualisation and my research was to consider the potential for using a Google Earth approach to provide access to spatial data and enhance communication about the features of the Isbourne catchment to improve participation in NFM.

Many people are now familiar with using Google Earth to browse locations and search for places; fewer are aware of the potential to add mapping data, onscreen visual information and links to useful resources combined with navigated ‘flight’ through the landscape – a virtual globe tour. My first challenge was to learn the techniques using a computerised scripting language (Keyhole MarkUp Language), having no previous programming experience. Having accomplished this with the help of limited published materials, a range of online resources and a process of trial and error I was ready to create a prototype tour and consult with the ICG to identify the key information requirements. The group were attentive and thankfully genuinely interested in the technique and how it could be used to demonstrate this project.

After a few months and many iterations, with periods of intense frustration, I had created a customised, interactive virtual globe tour for the Isbourne catchment. As the project was still at an early stage of planning it was not possible to identify target locations or specific interventions for the landscape, instead the visualisation demonstrated the issues and the complexity of the catchment and introduced the potential to use NFM. Participants from an online survey evaluation of the Google Earth virtual globe tour found it easy to use and helpful for communicating the presented information and educating participants about the catchment. Although not easy to create the virtual globe tour can provide access to data in an interesting format that can be easily shared on the internet. This approach could be used as part of a wider toolkit for communication and engagement and has potential for support in other environmental management scenarios with requirements for public participation

My experience of studying at the University of Gloucestershire has been very positive. My supervisors, Rob Berry and Chris Short from CCRI and Lucy Clarke from the School of Natural and Social Sciences have all been incredibly supportive and other staff and post-graduate students friendly and welcoming. I also had the opportunity to present my research at an international GIS conference (GISRUK 2018) in Leicester, pushing me out of my comfort zone but definitely worth it.”

Follow Kate Smith on Twitter @smith_kl1