The importance of our Natural Infrastructure

Prioritising the identification, protection and restoration of Natural Infrastructure provides a significant opportunity to realise the Government’s ambition of us being the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than which we found it.

In every parliament, the National Infrastructure Commission sets out their views about our long-term infrastructure needs in a National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA). Looking over a 30-year time horizon, they consider the demand and supply of infrastructure services and assets, such as roads or fibre optic cables, and make recommendations to government on how these needs are best met.

They consider major sectors including transport, energy, water & wastewater, and flood risk management – areas where projects could impact significantly upon the environment. What they don’t tend to consider is whether these sectors could in fact benefit from the services that our countryside and green spaces provide.

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SuDS and Sovereignty: Parliament pushes back on impermeable paving!

Thanks to Brexit, the question of Parliamentary sovereignty is much in mind: when can the Executive act without the consent of Parliament? The Supreme Court’s judgement that a Parliamentary vote is needed to trigger Article 50 is a check on executive power.

Behind the furore of Brexit, though, another balancing act has been taking place between Whitehall and Westminster that is having a real effect on people’s lives.

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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?

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The Government responds to the EFRA Committee’s Flood Report

In November 2016, I wrote a blog about the EFRA Committee’s Report on Future Flood Prevention. On balance, the report was a useful contribution to the national debate about how we best prepare for floods. We have now seen the Government’s response to the report and it tells us little we didn’t already know.

There is a reassuring commitment to a catchment-based approach and recognition that tackling flood risk should not be considered in isolation from other environmental challenges such as improving water quality, recovering wildlife and sequestering carbon. This does not take away from the importance of natural flood management; rather it enables us to build the case for investment by factoring in a full range of benefits. The end result is that schemes to slow the flow and make space for water would be rolled out much more widely, benefitting communities where investment for the flood risk reduction alone may not have stacked up.

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Changing the status quo – will it reduce flood risk?

The EFRA Committee report into future flood prevention offers a challenging vision after the damp squib of the Government’s National Flood Resilience Review. It distils a wide range of evidence into a set of pertinent challenges. Headlines will inevitably focus on the proposal to dismantle and rebuild current flood management governance and delivery bodies but the report contains recommendations that have the potential to make a lasting impact on how we approach flood risk management in England.

Facilitating a whole catchment approach

The Committee recognises that we need an approach to catchment management that considers how to reduce flood risk alongside providing a resilient supply of clean water and a healthy environment. The risk is that, by removing the flood management function from the Environment Agency and the Lead Local Flood Authority role from county and unitary authorities, you take responsibility from bodies with a broad remit to consider a full range of environmental services to create new structures with a much narrower remit. How will this help us to achieve a joined up approach to catchment management that delivers the best outcomes for society in the most cost effective way?

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The National Flood Resilience Review – does it live up to its name?

I felt a little underwhelmed after reading the Government’s ‘National Flood Resilience Review’, which was published on Thursday. National flood resilience is complicated and must consider not only how well communities are able to cope with extreme rainfall events but how quickly life can return to normal afterwards, what the impact is on businesses and whether the most vulnerable people receive the support they need.

Our nation cannot be truly resilient unless the environment is also able to cope, both with the impacts of flooding and the engineering we employ to manage it. There’s no inherent conflict there, the natural environment is one of the greatest assets we have in managing flood risk, but it does require a bit of careful planning.

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Wet wipes turn nasty when you flush them

Just a quick warning – what you’re about to read isn’t pleasant! Words like blockages, fat, sewage and poo are all coming up!

Most people associate flooding with extreme downpours, swelling rivers and bursting floodplains – but what if I told you that wet wipes could be the cause of a household flood? Surely those convenient, tiny white squares couldn’t be responsible for sewage filling your rooms and ruining your furniture – or could they?

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Soil is as important as air and water

We are dependent on healthy soils. Our soils are not only valuable for growing the food we eat; soil quality impacts on our ability to reduce climate change and can also be an important factor in flood management and the quality of our water. We need to take the health of our soils as importantly as we take our air and water quality.

A Parliamentary Committee has published its findings into the Government’s approach to tackling a national problem – that our soils are becoming increasingly unhealthy.

We need to take the health of our soils as importantly as we take our air and water quality. Yet 2.2 million tonnes of soil are eroded each year in the UK. It was estimated in 2011 that the cost of soil degradation in England and Wales is between £0.9 billion and £1.4 billion per year. Inappropriate soil management could cause a serious negative impact on soil fertility and the ability of some of our most agriculturally valuable land to continue current levels of productivity.

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