Study uses water data to map population changes caused by tourism

The economies of Devon and Cornwall have for many years relied heavily on the tourism industry.

But concerns have consistently been raised about the annual influx of visitors and, in particular, the pressures it places on the region’s resources and infrastructure.

Now, a two-year research project led by the University of Plymouth and University of Leeds aims to begin capturing that impact through actual utilities data.

WatPop: understanding seasonal population change unites researchers in population geography from the two universities with resources experts at South West Water – the statutory water authority for the region – and the Office for National Statistics.

By accessing water supply data provided by South West Water, researchers hope to gain an informed insight into the extent to which occupancy levels rise during the peak tourist seasons.

And while this project focuses specifically on Devon and Cornwall, equivalent data are routinely collected by all statutory water authorities and – as non-sensitive and non-personally identifiable operational data – could have the potential to indicate the small-area or dwelling level population fluctuations driven by tourism.

The £300,000 study is being supported through funding from the Economic and Social Science Research Council’s (ESRC) Secondary Data Analysis Initiative.

Dr Alan Smith, Lecturer in Environmental Management in Plymouth’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, is the project’s Principal Investigator. He said:

“This study will allow us to maximise the use of anonymised water metering data already routinely collected by South West Water. This will enable us to generate powerful insights to seasonal population change and make comparisons with traditional population datasets. Ultimately, the ability to link non-sensitive and routinely collected indicators of water supply to underlying population fluctuations could offer considerable benefits to a range of end users, from both the public and private sector.”

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