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Rural Water Security

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The MDT Fellowship on Rural Water Security is focused on understanding water security challenges in Scotland and the potential for community action and social innovation. 

The fellowship is developed by Dr Diana Valero in close collaboration with Dr. Rowan Ellis.

Scotland’s water security is affected by the changing climate and the adopted mitigation and adaptation strategies, requiring the transformation of the provision of water. In many rural communities, this responsibility relies not only on Scottish Water and the broader water sector but critically on the owners and users of private water supplies, whose access to water might be challenged in specific ways. Within this context, this fellowship aims to enhance the understanding of water security-related challenges and opportunities in rural Scotland with particular attention to the social dimensions of WS and ultimately to inform future policies and community and sectoral initiatives. This aim is underpinned by two main lines of research: (1) understanding the challenges and opportunities for WS action in Scotland, and (2) understanding the configuration of social practices around WS in rural areas and the opportunities for transformation (e.g.  social innovation).

The research programme is organised in mini-projects that combine conventional and co-produced research oriented to advance theory and support transformative action:

Understanding water security and insecurity in Scotland:

  • Analysis of policy narratives of water security in Scotland. This study explores the public narratives articulated by the main players in the governance of water in Scotland regarding the access to appropriate water in terms of quantity, quality, reliability, and affordability, using a framework based on the storytelling components of public and policy narratives. The aim is to identify what are the water-security-related issues that are being considered and rebuild the storytelling around them in order to understand how the action taken is framed and communicated. First results were presented in May 2022 at the workshop “Living Sustainably with Water: and interdisciplinary Challenge. Water and value workshop” organised by the University of Glasgow. Further analysis was presented and  discussed in July 2023 at the European Society for Rural Sociology Congress 2023 in Rennes, France (WG 25): “How to go from “our water is wonderful” to addressing water security issues in rural supplies? Insights from emerging narratives in Scotland
  • In-depth case study looking into the impacts of Storm Arwen in Aberdeenshire. This study seeks to better understand the impacts of Storm Arwen in the provision and access to water and the lived experiences of water insecurity following the impacts of the storm Arwen (end of November 2021) that left many households in rural Aberdeenshire without running water (linked in most cases to power outages). The research builds on the views and first-hand experiences of key stakeholders and rural dwellers whose water supplies were affected by the Storm. These views are collected through qualitative interviews and trawling of social media posts. Preliminary insights from the study of the digital footprint were published at the Hutton blog: "The digital footprint of #StormArwen and the disruption of water supplies".

  • In Along with work in the project RESAS JHI-D2-1 on the resilience of Private Water Supplies, we are developing the notion “water insecurity in unexpected places” for exploring water-related challenges. Building on the Scottish experience, it proposes a framework to explore water insecurity in places that are water abundant and/or in wet/temperate climates, where there is no mainstream narrative of water supply challenges, there are mature systems of natural resource governance, and water is mostly supplied through centralised provision. A preliminary version was presented at the Regional Studies Association Annual Conference 2023 in Ljubljana: “Rural water (in)security at the peripheries of water provision”.

Social innovation and engagement of communities in water services:

  • Identifying water-related social innovation examples in rural areas. Presentation delivered at the European Society of Rural Sociology Satellite Event “Transitioning Rural Futures” (Birnam, June 2022).
  • Exploring the scope for social innovation and game-changers in community engagement around wastewater. Collaborative project WASTEWATERSHIP- Increasing wastewater stewardship in collaboration with Glasgow Caledonian University and funded by the Hydro Nation Chari R&I Programme. In this project we have developed a multidimensional framework for enhanced engagement in wastewater processes, that could be used by Scottish Water and other wastewater stakeholders. To develop the framework this research explored stakeholders’ views on ideal future scenarios for wastewater engagement. The framework includes exploration of both methodological approaches (communication and engagement methods) and ethical concerns, focused specifically on practice values and minimising conflicts. Particular attention has been paid to citizen science and co-production of solutions.

A poster illustrating the breadth and depth of the research in the Fellowship was displayed at the 44th TB Macaulay Lecture (October 2023, Edinburgh). The poster is also available at this link.  



Project Information
Project Type: 
Active Project


Areas of Interest


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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.