The problem with flooding
There are approximately 7,600 properties across the Wyre catchment at risk from river flooding. Land management has had a significant impact on this issue, with intensive farming practices such as over grazing and use of heavy machinery leading to compacted soils which store less water. Removal of trees and other vegetation as well as ponds and wetlands reduce the amount of water that is stored in the landscape. Watercourses have often been modified and straightened to make way for farming and housing, speeding up the flow of water and detaching rivers from their floodplains. These factors leave little room for water during times of high rainfall and increase the risk of flooding, whilst climate change is also leading to more frequent and more intense periods of rainfall that are further contributing to flooding. Flooding can damage homes and businesses as well as having a severe impact on wellbeing, with 25% of people who have experienced flooding still facing associated mental health issues at least two years after the event.
What is natural flood management?
Natural flood management involves working with natural processes to reduce downstream flood risk. This is generally focused on slowing down the flow of water or reducing the amount of water reaching the main river by storing water in the landscape. Used in combination with traditional methods, natural flood management can help to prevent damage to homes and businesses from flooding.
Natural flood management in the Wyre catchment
Modelling of the River Wyre catchment as part of the Wyre Investment Readiness project funded by Triodos Bank has shown that development of approximately 70 hectares of NFM features may reduce the frequency of flooding to up to 120 properties in Churchtown. As well as protecting people’s homes and livelihoods, this would have a large potential cost saving to many organisations including United Utilities, the Environment Agency, local authorities, the insurance industry and locally based businesses. Through the Wyre NFM project a commercial business model has been developed to attract private funding to supplement public funding for reducing flood risk and aiding nature recovery. The cost savings from the implementation of NFM measures will generate a long-term revenue stream for repayment of upfront investment in reduced flood risk. Farmers and landowners can therefore be paid to host and maintain a range of NFM interventions including tree planting, water storage areas and hedgerow planting. The Wyre Catchment Community Interest Company has been set up to raise £850k from private investors consisting of high net worth individuals and companies such as United Utilities. A £526k grant has also been awarded by the Woodland Trust through the Northern Forests Grow Back Greener programme, which is part of Defra’s Nature For Climate Fund. The project is a national pilot and will be delivered by the Wyre Rivers Trust over the next four years with monitoring in place up until 2030. The project is being led by the Wyre Rivers Trust, The Rivers Trust national, and Triodos Bank UK with partners including Wyre Council, Markerstudy, United Utilities, Flood Re, Co-op Insurance, Northwest Regional Flood and Coastal committee and Hogan Lovells.
Thomas Myerscough, General Manager Wyre Rivers Trust
Why Natural Flood Management?
It’s not just about reducing flood risk. Natural flood management has plenty of other benefits including improved water quality, better habitats for wildlife and increased carbon storage. It is less damaging to the river than other methods such as dredging. Whilst dredging can in some cases improve general land drainage, it cannot prevent rivers from flooding, due to the huge volumes of water involved. Likewise engineered barriers provide only localised protection from flooding which can compound the problem further downstream. Allowing the river to flood as it should in places (i.e. flood plains) where homes and businesses are not at risk lowers the risk for people downstream. Interventions to hold water back at the top of the catchment also prevent water from reaching these areas in the first place.
Natural Flood Management examples
Leaky dams- wooden structures in a watercourse that help to slow the flow of water, holding it back and helping to reduce downstream flood risk. ·
Fencing helps to keep livestock out of drains and watercourses, allowing vegetation to grow up and creating a buffer strip so that water is slower to reach the river and is less likely to erode the banks. ·
Planting trees and hedgerows helps to disrupt the path of water as it flows into the river, slowing it down. Leaves and twigs break down in the soil to form organic matter, which holds water like a sponge.
Increasing surface roughness, for example letting heavily grazed grassland regenerate into rough pasture, slows run-off into watercourses and decreases soil compaction, allowing more water to percolate down into the soil.
Wetlands and ponds create additional areas where flood water can be stored when required. ·
Peat restoration—peatlands make up nearly 10% of the UKs land cover but have historically been drained, reducing their capacity to hold water. Want to help? Find out more about ways you can get involved on our volunteer pages.
We’ve been keeping an eye on everything we do to see where improvements can be made and check everything is working as it should. Rain gauges and level loggers help us to measure the amount of water the dams are holding back. Wildlife cameras have been used to capture how the leaky dams respond to high flows. We’ll also be carrying out vegetation and wildlife surveys to see the effect our fencing and planting is having on wildlife.
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