Natural Flood Management

While the winter we are currently experiencing has been relatively dry, none of us will soon forget the catastrophic weather that hit Britain just twelve months ago. A relentless series of storms battered the UK throughout December 2015, causing unprecedented rainfall in many areas and resulting in widespread flooding and massive damage to infrastructure, homes and businesses in affected regions, particularly the northeast of England.

Hard-engineering structures remain the go-to approach for managing flood risk, while dredging often rears its ugly head as an immediate response to severe flooding events. Dredging is a highly destructive activity for fish populations and as an angling organisation the Angling Trust feels very strongly that it has no place in modern flood risk management (see the Blueprint Dredging Up Trouble report). However, the situation is gradually changing –  is there now a more natural and cost-effective long-term solution? Natural Flood Risk Management (NFM) is an in-vogue expression used by government departments, local authorities and conservation NGOs alike, but what does it actually mean?

NFM involves utilising and manipulating natural processes to help prevent (or decrease the severity of) flooding events. These processes can complement hard-engineering structures where they are absolutely essential to protect particularly vulnerable areas. NFM can be as simple as planting trees in upland areas to help slow the infiltration of water, as fundamental as good soil management in arable catchments to prevent compaction of topsoil and slowing run-off, or as sophisticated as building “leaky dams” on the upper reaches of water courses to help hold back water and slow its progression down the valley. In reality, NFM initiatives usually encompass a combination of all these processes.

A typical small-scale leaky dam on an upland watercourse – a great example of NFM in action. Credit: Andy Clark.

Until now, I feel that NFM has been a relatively ambiguous term to the general public, who probably view it as a relatively inefficient “tree-hugger’s” approach to preventing floods. I say until now because a new feature length documentary is about to be launched that explores the concept of NFM and shares the stories of the people at the forefront of flooding throughout the UK. High Water Common Ground is due to premier later this year, and the trailer can currently be viewed here.

Andy Clark, the producer of HWCG, has created the film with a strong focus on community involvement in management schemes. However, Andy recognises that HWCG is really only the beginning of what should be a much larger project. And so, Andy is planning to expand www.highwaterfilm.co.uk as a host of short films – taken in part from ‘deleted scenes’, and in part from further explorations into other innovative schemes from around the UK. Ultimately, this will provide a single website to host all a community could need to explore their options in flood risk management, and obtain information on how to make their ambitions into reality.

Andy is currently developing a crowdfunding campaign to enable him to continue expanding the scope of the High Water Common Ground project. Find out more at www.facebook.com/HighWaterCommonGround

James Champkin,
Campaigns Officer, Angling Trust