This case study of the Dyfi Biosphere was prepared in support of Public Health Wales’ health impact assessment (HIA) of the impact of climate change in Wales. The study area is Wales’ only biosphere and offers a unique learning site for sustainable development, demonstrating a variety of communities, landscapes, and ecosystems.
With such diverse features that are all in some way potentially affected by climate change, this area offered valuable insights about the impacts on health and wellbeing of climate change. The study area was scoped to include the community of Fairbourne on the edge of the Biosphere that some media reports have described as potentially Britain’s first climate refugees. This case study however sought to take a holistic view of the Dyfi Biosphere through a public health lens considering the many different communities both on the coast and inland and how they will be affected by broad ranging climate change impacts.
Urban Habitats was commissioned by the Welsh Health Impact Assessment Unit at Public Health Wales, a leading centre of expertise on HIA globally, and part of the WHO Collaborating Centre on Investment for Health and Well-being. Urban Habitats’ role was to develop a case study to provide relatable examples to a broad audience in support of the wider HIA.
Methods were primarily desktop based. Whilst the project scope did not include stakeholder interviews Urban Habitats was nonetheless able to incorporate conversations with certain key stakeholders and local organisations supplemented with site visits conducted of course by train and bicycle! Whilst not formally involved in the study both the Dyfi Biosphere and the Centre for Alternative Technology, where Mark Drane is a visiting lecturer kindly provided invaluable insights including access to previous studies which were invaluable. Systems mapping was also undertaken as part of this brief and included obtaining feedback at a stakeholder event associated with the main HIA.
What this study contributed was to place a public health lens on the questions of climate change including considering population groups across different community profiles and settlement typologies such as coastal or inland and of varying sizes. There were many practical examples of communities taking action already such as the Talybont Floodees responding to inland surface water flooding and Greener Tywyn seeking to encourage sustainable living in coastal town.
Climate change is a problem that presents new challenges for public health requiring us to extend the lens of research. At the same time it is essential to value community knowledge and experience and whilst this study was not participatory care was nevertheless taken to carefully represent the available views of communities.
What we learned
It was invaluable to find out more about the varied ecosystems of the Dyfi biosphere and the huge value that they have including to address climate change.
We were forced to think about how to break down the enormous topic of climate change into manageable chunks. System mapping helped but also demonstrated the complexity of the situation even tracing one issue through a web of connections. And as with any HIA the evidence base is constantly developing which simply highlights the need for continuous and ongoing work in this area.
We also enjoyed cycling around the Biosphere – albeit in torrential rain!
Report: findings from the HIA will inform Public Bodies across Wales and will be contained in a Public Health Wales report for publication in 2022.
This relatable case study with real world examples from the Dyfi Biosphere is an important component of this health impact assessment (HIA) of climate change in Wales and is included as a case study. Urban Habitats developed our early concept with the suggestion and opportunity to consider a range of communities across the Biosphere and the potential health and wellbeing impacts of climate change on them.
This was also clearly informed by the practice’s ethical approach to their work – valuing the knowledge of communities and taking a sensitive approach to understanding the experiences of people who are living with the impacts of climate change today.
Knowledge of the issues, the geography, and a willingness to get out in the rain on a bike and understand the context on the ground were all equally important ways of working that Mark Drane and Urban Habitats brought to the work!
Liz Green, Consultant in Public Health, Policy and International Health / Programme Director for Health Impact Assessment, Public Health Wales
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