The Environment Agency dominates flood news following the severe November weather

On Wednesday 25 November, as this article is being written in London, it is a bright, sunny day. However, the recent storms that caused such severe flooding in Cumbria are still dominating the headlines, and with less than a fortnight to go until the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, PRmoment commissioned research to analyse how major bodies dealing with floods are being covered by the media, and to what extent the issue of climate change is being raised.  

Research supplied by Echo Sonar

Looking at online media coverage of the Environment Agency, The Met Office, the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) and the British Red Cross in the last three weeks, shows that the extreme British weather this month has particularly raised the profile of the Environment Agency. More stories mentioned this agency than the other three bodies put together. In many stories, the agency’s expertise is relied upon heavily, for example, at on 25 November: “The Environment Agency said Tuesday's heaviest rain fell between 2100 GMT and midnight. A spokesman said: ‘The ground is saturated and although river levels are starting to drop, they are still high …We are clearing debris out of the rivers to free them up and we are keeping a close watch on all of them.’"

Climate change came out as the topic most often mentioned in Environment Agency stories, but for all the other organisations, the main subject was the flooding itself. With the approach of the Climate Change Conference, it is to be expected that environmental issues will soon move further up the news agenda.

Although the floods have increased coverage of such concerns, it could be argued that immediately after the floods it is too soon for PROs working for environmental organisations to spotlight climate issues. Flic Howard-Allen, client services director at PR firm Hill & Knowlton, says that the immediate priority should be to think about those affected by the recent flooding. Howard-Allen says: “Quite rightly, the focus now and for some time should be on helping the people of Cumbria. We also need to see if a scientific consensus emerges that climate change was the cause of the storms. But in due course, if it is, this could be an opportunity for environmental groups to shed more light on what climate change means, both in what we are going to have to do to tackle it, and how we can cope with its impact. ”

Research supplied by Echo Sonar

Stephen Waddington, managing director of PR agency Speed, agrees with Howard-Allen that the media is right to initially focus on the human impact of the storms. He says: "This is a disaster that occurred in the UK resulting in death and destruction. Inevitably the media ignored changing weather patterns and led with the impact on human life and damage to homes and infrastructure. But the global warming angle is getting stronger and will continue as the initial disaster-style reporting is replaced with analysis.

"The Environment Minister Hillary Benn and Prime Minster Gordon Brown were quick to the scene which was a well advised move and the media response from the Met Office, the Highways Agency, the Department for Transport and Cumbria County Council has been flawless."


The photography in this article was supplied by the RNLI.


PRmoment asked Echo Sonar to analyse all UK media coverage of recent weather conditions, focusing on the Environment Agency, the Met Office, RNLI, the British Red Cross and the National Flood Forum. The research period was from 1 October until 22 November. Metrics included share of voice, daily trend and topics.

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