It is interesting how the tide is turning (no pun intended!) regarding flooding in this country. Not long ago the only answer seemed to be to just keep pouring the concrete to build up hard defences along rivers and coasts. But - like trying to squeeze yourself into clothes that are far too small – all the excess has to bulge out somewhere. Hard flood defences in one place just mean that the spate in a river builds up and it simply spills out, often catastrophically, at the next weak point.
The Wildlife Trusts’ report - Nature’s Place for Water - launched in November 2008, shows how The Wildlife Trusts are working with nature to provide sustainable solutions to flood management. While flood defence walls remain vital in protecting homes and farmland, if the UK is to address the future effects of climate change, natural solutions to flood management must play a significant role. You can download the Wildlife Trusts report here http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/files/uploaded/Flooding%20web.pdf
There is now a Draft Floods and Water Bill which seems to take a more natural approach to flood management. I haven’t read this yet but, going by recent releases from Natural England, it does seem to recognise that conventional methods of managing floods and coastal erosion may no longer be adequate or sustainable especially in the face of climate change.
Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said: “This Bill must ensure that our natural environment plays a pivotal role in flood management. If we increase its capacity to retain more water it will play a greater role in reducing flooding and consequently our reliance on miles of costly concrete and earth embankments”. She stresses that flood management should embrace natural solutions, such as restoring river channels, increasing floodplain wetlands and allowing re-alignment of the coast.
If you look at a map of Sussex you will often see places that are referred to as flood plains. Now there is a reason for the word “flood” in flood plain – and that is that they tend to flood! Fighting against this is not always successful and even when it is it might just mean that somewhere else might flood instead. Well government policy, it seems, might be accepting this now and as a result we might see more naturally functioning wetland, more wetland habitats and more wetland wildlife (along with better flood defence and a much improved landscape).
The way rural land is managed can reduce rural and urban flooding at the local level. Both the Environment Agency and Natural England should work even more closely together to deliver more schemes that work with natural processes. There are, of course, examples of work progressing in Sussex, with re-naturalisations schemes planned for the Cuckmere (for which I have praised EA in the past) and the possibility of more wetland establishment being discussed for rivers like the Ouse. There are also imaginative schemes being put forward by private landowners who aim to re-naturalise upstream river sections to create attractive wetlands and reduce flood risk down stream.
These ideas, good though they are, will all effect somebody’s land. A more natural approach to flood defence should not just be something that is imposed to the disadvantage of the landowner who happens to own part of a flood plain. Flood management is something that we will all benefit from so it wouldn’t be right if the wider public gained the benefit but the landowner had to bare the cost. This approach must therefore be done in parallel with advice, support and incentives to make this a viable option for a landowner.
- flooding events are likely to get more frequent with the changing climate,
- working with nature is a more sustainable approach to flood management
- working with nature delivers other public benefits as well (wetland wildlife and an improved landscape) and
- advice and incentives should be available to landowners to make re-naturalisation of river catchments a more viable option.
If the Floods and Water Bill achieves all this then we will be moving in the right direction.