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Geological Hazards: How Safe is Britain?

In Britain, we are usually only aware of geological hazards when a catastrophic event happens elsewhere in the world, such as an earthquake, a volcanic eruption or a tsunami. While Britain does experience these 'geohazards' very occasionally, their effect is usually small. Nevertheless, geological hazards in Britain can damage buildings, structures and infrastructure, costing between £0.5bn and £1bn every year, as well as occasionally causing injury or loss of life.

Perhaps surprisingly, the most important geological hazard that affects Britain, in terms of financial loss, is the swelling and shrinking of certain clay formations. Other relatively common natural geological hazards include landslides, dissolution of more soluble rocks and weak, compressible soils. There is also a range of human-caused ‘anthropogenic geohazards’ caused by ground contamination, mineral extraction and waste disposal.

We will discuss what constitutes a ‘hazard’, what dangers Britain faces, and what we can do to reduce the risks. 

Listen to 'Geological Hazards - Home and Away' in our series of podcasts to hear Martin Culshaw explain more about the geological hazards faced by the UK.


Martin Culshaw


Martin Culshaw is an independent researcher and consultant. Until April 2008 he was Director of Environment and Hazards at the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the Survey's Chief Engineering Geologist. Previously, he managed the Survey’s Physical Hazards Programme, the Urban Geoscience and Geological Hazards Programme, the Coastal and Engineering Geology Group and the Engineering Geology and Geophysics Group. 

He has been involved in engineering geological research, environmental and engineering geological mapping, geohazard assessment, site investigation and the application of geology to land use planning for over thirty five years. During this time he has spent a number of years overseas in Asia, Africa, Europe and Central America.