Delivering sustainable flood risk management: guidance (2019)

Second edition of statutory guidance to SEPA, local authorities and Scottish Water on fulfilling their responsibilities under the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009.

6. Working with Stakeholders


Public awareness, participation and community engagement are essential components of sustainable flood risk management. Public participation can not only raise awareness of flood risk, it can also inform decisions and contribute to the successful implementation of actions and ensure that the public know what actions they can take themselves.

Land and property owners are primarily responsible for protecting their properties from flooding. Individuals, businesses and communities can play an important local role in flood management by acting as their own first line of defence against flooding. These actions can play an important role in complementing and supporting the work undertaken by SEPA and the responsible authorities.

This section provides guidance on:

  • communicating flood risk;
  • improving access to information on flood risk, including flood warning, flood maps and other resources;
  • improving access to information on the steps that individuals can take to protect their families, homes and businesses from flooding, before and after a flood;
  • improving awareness of actions that can increase flood risk and alternative options, for instance using permeable paving;
  • raising awareness among stakeholders about the contribution they can make to flood risk management.

Communicating flood risk

It is important that the public understand the flood risk that they face. These can be complex concepts to explain. This means that special attention must be given to how information on flooding is conveyed to the public. Experience suggests that simply stating ‘return periods’ or probabilities for particular floods can be very confusing, particularly to communities who have recently experienced flooding.

SEPA and the responsible authorities must investigate a range of options for expressing flood probabilities and risk to the public. Visual tools in particular can help with understanding such as figures, maps and diagrams to communicate the messages.

Options may include providing information on the chance that an individual or community could be affected by a flood, rather than information on the likelihood of particular flood occurring. Comparisons to other risks people face in daily life could also be used to help explain flooding issues. As no comparison is perfect, this approach should not be relied upon in isolation.

Where risk thresholds have been used, for instance when identifying areas potentially vulnerable to flooding, they must be accompanied by clear explanations of the criteria used, how risks were calculated or estimated, and how thresholds have been set.

Maximising access to information

Public engagement and participation needs to be on-going and regularly refreshed, seeking to attract attention and changes in behaviour without causing undue alarm. At all times, it must be based on clear, accurate information, presented in the most accessible manner, using non-technical language.
This includes using channels and partnering organisations already popular with those we seek to engage.

Working in collaboration with community resilience organisations and other advocates (like the Scottish Flood Forum), SEPA, and the responsible authorities should help individuals, business owners and local community groups take some responsibility for their own flood awareness and preparation. This will include documents and communication material to promote the use of flood resilient repairs and property level protection.

Using flood maps

Flood maps are a powerful tool for communicating complex flooding information. For instance flood outlines can show predictions of where flood waters would go under different flooding conditions.

The Flood Map

©Crown Copyright. SEPA (2018). All Rights Reserved. The Flood Map data was developed using data from various sources. Full acknowledgement of data providers and participating parties is available at

The flood risk management planning process will generate an extensive resource of information on flooding and its impacts including new maps[10]. It is important that the public are given appropriate access to relevant information. Care must be taken to ensure that the information available to the public is of value and suited to their needs.

Flood maps and other similar resources will become more sophisticated, and in some cases may consider multiple sources of flooding and their impacts. SEPA and the responsible authorities will need to ensure that information is presented in a way which is clear and understandable for a non-technical user.

Flood warning

SEPA is Scotland’s flood warning authority with responsibility for warning and informing the public and strategic partners on the threat of flooding through the Floodline service.

Scottish Enviroment Protection Agency
0345 988 1188

In 2017 SEPA published its Flood Warning Development Framework outlining how it intends to maintain, improve and broaden its service up until 2021. There should be continued emphasis on improving this flood warning service, and this should include maintaining and improving links to other awareness raising initiatives.

Perceptions and attitudes to flood risk

To help target awareness raising work, SEPA and the responsible authorities should continue work to develop a more comprehensive understanding of public perceptions and attitudes to flood risk. In undertaking this work, particular attention should be given to understanding how past experiences or the lack of them colour perceptions of flood risk.

Information on perceptions and attitudes to flood risk should be reviewed periodically to test the performance and success of awareness raising and other campaigns.

An active and planned approach to public participation

Public engagement and participation in flood risk management decisions will help reassure the public that sustainable actions are being selected. In taking forward public engagement and participation, SEPA and the responsible authorities should focus on:

  • building understanding and trust locally, particularly through inclusive decision making;
  • involving local residents, land managers and key community representatives in the planning process;
  • clarifying the responsibilities of public bodies, home occupiers and business owners and the important supportive role of voluntary organisations;
  • agreeing priorities and setting realistic expectations; and
  • raising long term awareness of flood risk and its sustainable management through schools and colleges including those that serve the land management sectors.

To support this work, SEPA and the responsible authorities, in liaison with the Scottish Government, the Scottish Flood Forum and other relevant organisations, should develop and begin application of a national engagement and communication strategy. This work will include an active role developing the Flood Resilient Properties Action Plan and disseminating its outputs to communities at flood risk.

The strategy should support the adoption of clear and consistent messages and materials at a national and local level, and actively encourage greater public involvement. The strategy should not be viewed as a one off exercise; instead it is about creating an on-going process of engagement that can be applied in all areas of flood risk management.

The strategy should help ensure that the public:

  • are provided with accessible and comprehensible information on flood risk and flood risk management and actions they can take;
  • are involved in the co-production of information resources;
  • are aware of actions being taken by SEPA and the responsible authorities to manage flood risk;
  • have appropriate expectations for the level of flood protection that can be provided;
  • have access to information on the consequences of key flood risk management decisions;
  • have clear opportunities to communicate their views and priorities for flood risk management;
  • have confidence that their views and priorities are fully considered in decision-making processes;
  • understand the basis on which decisions have been made.

Promoting and supporting actions by individuals and communities

Investing in flood protection schemes and other actions to reduce flood risk is an important part of protecting Scotland’s communities and businesses from the impacts of flooding. However, it will never be possible to eliminate flood risk. Actions by individuals, business and communities will play an important role in complementing and supporting the work undertaken by SEPA and the responsible authorities.

Individuals already take responsibility for managing many risks they face in their day to day lives, for example, to protect themselves from fire by using smoke detectors, fire blankets and fire extinguishers. A similar approach should be encouraged for flood risk, with individuals acting as their own first line of defence against flooding.

Simple steps include keeping abreast of flood warning information, checking flood maps to see whether homes are in flood risk areas, making a plan of actions that should be taken in the event of a flood. Steps can also be taken to reduce the damage caused by flood waters and the repair time, for instance by making flood resilient property repairs after a flood and installing flood resilient products, such as property level protection, to homes and businesses.

SEPA and the responsible authorities need to support actions by individuals by improving access to information on the steps that individuals can take to protect their family’s homes and businesses from flooding. This could include showcasing best practise and promoting self-help guides, particularly amongst those who have not experienced a significant flood.

SEPA and responsible authorities should encourage land managers to contribute to flood risk management through altering land management practices in areas identified as important for this purpose. This can be done in a number of ways, for instance through demonstration sites, representative bodies, advisory organisations and trusted intermediaries such as the Tweed Forum. Appropriate incentives could also be made available to encourage voluntary agreement.

In promoting these messages and actions, the aim should be to minimise the damage caused by flooding and improve the ability of individuals, businesses and communities to recover quickly, fully and more resilient from a flood.

Improving awareness of actions that can increase flood risk

Small changes to how land within and around properties, and businesses is managed could, over time, make a substantial contribution to increase flood risk. In urban areas, simple actions like paving over gardens can have a major cumulative impact on flooding. Similarly, land management activities in rural areas can adversely impact upon the landscapes ability to store and slow the flow of water, that can cause problems elsewhere.

SEPA and the responsible authorities should promote awareness of the cumulative impact that individuals and business can have on flooding and the positive actions that can be taken to prevent and reduce these effects.

Involving stakeholders in the decision making process

To support the preparation of flood risk management plans, the Act provides for the creation of advisory groups. The groups, which must include representation from a wide range of interests, will provide an important forum for discussing flood management and engaging with the stakeholder community. SEPA and the responsible authorities will need to consider how best to engage with existing stakeholder forums and whether further fora will need to be established.

SEPA has established a National Flood Management Advisory Group (NFMAG) to advise on the key deliverables outlined in the FRM Act and ensure all deadlines are met. A Cross Border Advisory Group (CBAG) is also in place to ensure that the relevant authorities on each side of the border coordinate their work to ensure that they understand how the impact of flood risk on one side of the border is affected by actions and inactions on the other side of the border.

SEPA and the lead local authorities have also established local advisory groups. These include representation from a wide range of interests (including local planning authorities, Scottish Natural Heritage, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, harbour authorities, Historic Environment Scotland and others) and provide an important forum for discussing flood management and its links to river basin management and other local projects.

Opportunities for stakeholder participation should be incorporated at all stages of flood risk management, from the preparation of flood risk management strategies and plans through to schemes and projects. Engagement with interested parties should aim to gain a sound understanding of local issues and an appreciation of the concerns of individuals, communities and businesses potentially affected, as well as more strategic and national perspectives. Professional advice is provided through the Scottish Advisory and Implementation Forum for Flooding (SAIFF). There are a number of working groups that include members from SEPA, Scottish Water, local authorities and other groups to support a variety of aspects of flood risk management, including natural flood management and surface water management.


SEPA and the responsible authorities need to consider and utilise a range of different mechanisms for engagement including physical and online forums, mobile texts as well as formal written consultation routes.

Stakeholder participation should be used to help identify and develop management options and to gain an understanding of local people’s views and needs, in particular those affected by flooding and those that can assist in protecting against it. Involvement of individuals, businesses and communities in taking forward actions should be promoted wherever possible.

Information should be conveyed to stakeholders in a transparent way, using plain language to enable stakeholders to gain a better understanding of the decisions that affect them and what they can do to influence or get involved in the decision making process.

Formal and informal consultation should be undertaken in the development of strategies, plans and projects. This should enable stakeholders affected, including the community and statutory consultees to make a meaningful contribution to the appraisal processes. Consultation should be coordinated and structured to enable interested parties to understand the decision making process. Statutory consultation requirements, to do with environmental impact assessment, strategic environment assessment and in the Act, should be used to inform policy and projects appraisal.

From the outset, it should be explained to communities and other beneficiaries that the availability of public funds for delivering flood risk management may be dependent on national priorities for investment and how the project compares with the benefits achievable by investment in other parts of the country. However, it is equally important that people understand that constraints on public funds shouldn’t prevent beneficial local projects being developed, partly or wholly funded or delivered by local beneficiaries. This is subject to the impacts being acceptable to the whole community and such projects complying with any relevant legislation.
As part of the consultation process, the potential benefits and the beneficiaries should be clearly identified. This should enable stakeholders to understand the relevance of costs and benefits. It may also encourage contributions towards projects which could enable actions to be promoted that otherwise might not be afforded or allowed to proceed sooner. Such contributions should allow public funding to go further and deliver improved flood risk management in areas that otherwise would not benefit.

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