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Defra Science and Innovation: Government’s International Forward Look

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Defra digital, Earth Observation, Open data

On Wednesday 7 September, the first Defra Science and Innovation Fair is being held in Nobel House Atrium, where scientists from across the group will be showcasing their work. You can see a full list of stalls at the event at the bottom of this post. Ahead of the event, DefraDigital is hosting one blog post a day so you, dear reader, can find out about the kinds of things you’ll be able to find out about if you’re able to attend. This is the first. Enjoy! — Ed.

Every week, since July 2015, a small group of scientists from across a number of government agencies including the Met Office, British Geological Survey, Public Health England and Defra’s Animal and Plant Health Agency produce a natural hazard risk identification document for for government departments. This innovative, cross-government approach to joining up our horizon-scanning scientists, and risk assessors from across government anticipates the next emerging global threat. It’s the first time this has been attempted in any country and is raising interest with international partners.

Together, we have designed a process for not only identifying the hazards, but also a system for flagging where they are on the increase, where there are inconsistencies in the evidence, where the impact could be greater, and which events may be ‘cascade events’, where one hazard can lead to another. The programme has been developed in partnership with Government Office for Science, at the request of the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, following a recommendation in their report on ‘The Use of Science in Humanitarian Emergencies and Disasters’.

Katla Volcano in Icleand, Erupting in 1918
Katla Volcano in Icleand, Erupting in 1918. Image: Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

Efforts were intensified in the wake of events such as the Ebola public health emergency and the Nepal earthquake, leading to the desire for a platform for identifying the next big issue wthat could require a response from government departments working overseas. The project addresses many of the Guiding Principles agreed in the Sendai DRR Framework, and is supported by the Cabinet Office. A recent issue flagged this year is the emerging Zika virus epidemic, which enabled government to be on the front foot to respond. However, we also look at smaller issues – whether it is the risk of flooding associated with unseasonal rains, and associated risk to animals, to the potential for volcanoes to cause respiratory problems for people living in their vicinity, or the seasonal rise in vector-borne diseases.

This week, we are continuing to look at the yellow fever situation in Central Africa; the potential for the Iceland volcano, Katla, to cause myriad problems for everything from travel to air quality; the reason behind a lightning strike killing 300 reindeer in Norway; and the likely pathway of several tropical storms in the Atlantic. And our risk summary? Prepare for rain this weekend, don’t put off your half term mini-breaks yet, always check your vaccination status before travelling and – whatever you do – avoid contact with reindeer.

For more information please contact Helen Roberts, APHA, Amanda Walsh, PHE, Mel Duncan, BGS, Gavin Iley, Met Office or Colin Armstrong / Jack Wardle, GoS or come and see us at the Science & Innovation Fair in the LNH Atrium next Wednesday 7 September.


  • Data and digital technology for science in the marine environment
  • Food and Agritech
  • Earth observation data integration
  • Animal health: Antimicrobial resistance and outbreak modelling
  • Soil and sustainable intensification
  • Pollinators: bee health
  • Water: science behind catchment management
  • Waste crime enforcement
  • Natural hazards
  • Climate change
  • Plant health

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  1. Comment by Alex Murray posted on

    Do you have a reference for the 'natural hazard risk identification document' that was produced for government departments, as mentioned in your blog? Where has it been published?

    Also what is the format of the platform? Has this idea come to fruition? Which website can it be found?


    • Replies to Alex Murray>

      Comment by Helen Roberts posted on

      Hi Alex

      We are in the process of writing up the project and developing an on line platform, both of which we hope will be in the next few months.

  2. Comment by Alex Murray posted on

    Hi Helen,
    Looking forward to attend your workshops next February in Orange, NSW. I hope to meet with you prior to this in Canberra and look forward to integrate your technical expertise into the Strategic Risk uplift work I am managing across BFS.

    Kind Regards

    Alex Murray
    Strategy and Performance-BFS Risk Management

    • Replies to Alex Murray>

      Comment by Helen Roberts posted on

      Great! I was planning on using this process as one of the risk assessment tools for the training, so I', pleased you think it wil be useful,