Environment Agency to strengthen natural flood management after pilots

Low-tech “natural” flood management, such as using natural materials to slow river flows and storing floodwater in grassland, will play a role, according to the chief executive of the Environment Agency. key role in preventing future floods.

Sixty natural flood management pilot projects have helped protect 15,000 homes and store up to 1.6 million cubic meters of floodwater, while contributing to nature restoration along 610 km of river and 4,000 hectares of wetlands and forests.

Announcing the results of the four-year natural flood management pilot projects, Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, said: “The warning signs of the climate crisis are stark – and sadly the Devastating floods are likely to become a more familiar sight over the next century.By harnessing the power of nature alongside our traditional flood defenses, we can not only keep communities safe, but also create havens for wildlife. and tackle the climate emergency.

Natural flood management helps slow the flow of water across the landscape through measures such as restoring the meanders of channeled rivers, recreating wetlands that store flood waters, and planting trees and hedges on the banks of rivers which also help to absorb water.

The £15m pilot projects included Cumbria schemes where farmers removed compaction from their soil to reduce water runoff, more than 100 ‘leaky’ wooden barriers built by the Forestry Commission on streams and a redesigned dry stone wall to retain water.

In Warwickshire, the community-led Shipston Area Flood Action Group has built 700 leaky barriers and ponds to slow the flow of water on the River Stour during heavy rains, reducing the risk of flooding in 17 villages and towns.

In Sutton, Greater London, sustainable urban drainage systems have been installed in six schools. These systems capture runoff from surfaces such as roofs, roads and sidewalks, preventing the drainage system from being overwhelmed and filtering out contaminants before the water enters sewers and ultimately empties into a river.

This program, including planters and rain gardens built on playgrounds, now prevents more than four hectares of hard surfaces from sending rainwater into the Wandle River, helping to reduce pollution in this chalk stream. .

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “We know that flooding can have a devastating impact on people’s lives, homes and livelihoods. That’s why we’re investing a record £5.2 billion in flood and coastal defenses to ensure more communities are better prepared – and nature-based solutions are a key part of that.

“The additional benefits of natural flood management for people and wildlife are vast – helping us achieve our ambitious net-zero goals, providing vital new habitats and creating areas of natural beauty that people can enjoy for generations. coming.”

Each natural flood management program in the pilot cost an average of £250,000 – far less than conventional ‘hard’ engineering such as flood walls. “It’s on a completely different scale to most flood projects,” said Julie Foley, director of flood risk strategy at the Environment Agency. “For the benefits, given that they’re so varied, it’s great value for money.”

Foley confirmed that the Environment Agency will now spend more of the £5.2billion allocated for flood management between 2021 and 2027 to ‘mainstream’ natural flood management, with the aim of doubling the programs it supports.

85 partners took part in the pilot project, including the Rivers Trust, Wildlife Trusts, local authorities, universities and local businesses.

The pilot project report revealed that the involvement of landowners and land managers was crucial as they are responsible for maintaining natural defenses in the future.

Government environmental land management programs should include payments to help landowners deliver the “public good” of flood mitigation via such natural solutions.

Sarah Fowler, Chief Executive of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, one of the pilot partners, said: “Wetlands help us mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, which is why WWT is calling for restoration and the creation of 100,000 hectares of wetlands in the UK.

“This report demonstrates the power of nature, and wetlands in particular, to fight floods. I look forward to WWT working with the Environment Agency, using our expertise in wetland science and wetland provision, to create natural large-scale flood management solutions to manage risk. current and future floods.

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