BBK Magazine 41

200th Anniversary Edition

Making the UK More Resilient to Climate Change

Professor Lynne Frostick CBE

Professor Lynne Frostick, one of the UK’s leading experts in flooding and coastal erosion and advocate for women in science, began her career as a lecturer in geology at Birkbeck in 1974. In 2020, Lynne was central to the team who developed the Environment Agency’s flood and coastal risk strategy and recently received a CBE for her contribution.

Science, like everything, is best when you’ve got a variety of ideas and perspectives”

At school, Lynne recalls being advised by her teachers to “do a girl’s subject like botany, because women don’t do geology.” Determined to follow her passion, she went on to study geology at university as the only woman on the course.

After a distinguished academic career in geoscience, Lynne was appointed as the Environment Agency Board Lead for flood risk, a role that included the development of the country’s new long-term flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy: “At present, one in six people in England are at risk from flooding. Getting people to have the lightbulb moment that we need to do things differently is key.

“The primary actions of the new strategy include developing an up-to-date assessment of present and future flood risk, working with national infrastructure providers to ensure resilience to future flooding and coastal change, and developing new training materials on flood risk and development planning with the Town and Country Planning Association.”

Birkbeck, Lynne recognizes, helped make her career in academia possible: “I’m so grateful to the College for hiring me as a lecturer. It was my first teaching role and at the time there weren’t many jobs, or women, working in science, let alone geoscience. Fortunately, it is like chalk and cheese comparing then to now. I think the problem of women not opting for science careers often lies in perceptions developed at school age about subjects for girls and boys being different.”

Lynne chaired the government committee responsible for encouraging more women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM): “Making change involved small steps, such as encouraging initiatives like the Athena Swan Charter framework that aims to transform gender equality within higher education and research. Raising the numbers and profile of women in STEM leadership positions is hugely important because science, like everything, is best when you’ve got a variety of ideas and perspectives.”

Lynne often reflects on the impact of her teaching experience at Birkbeck, when aged just 24, she was standing in a room full of Birkbeck students mostly older than her: “It was a challenge, but it forced me to become confident quickly! Birkbeck students are different. They are very vocal and they’re eager to learn and advance themselves. It’s such a valuable institution with a real community feel.” She adds, with a smile, “I also met my husband at Birkbeck, who was also a lecturer in the Geography Department. So Birkbeck gave me everything, including my family!”