Natural Flood Management Strategies For UK Landowners
Although much of the UK is experiencing a cold snap right now, with the Met Office warning that temperatures could plunge as low as -8 degrees C for the next week or so, this winter has generally been characterised by rain… and plenty of it.
Large swathes of the country have been hit by serious flooding incidents as a result and this shows no signs of stopping as of yet, with the Environment Agency currently issuing 50 flood warnings where flooding is expected and 72 flood alerts where flooding is possible.
In south Wales, for example, livestock farms operating in the Towy Valley have been left submerged after the River Towy burst its banks during intense rainfall at the start of the month (January).
Deryc Rees, local dairy farmer, confirmed that flooding has increased in the region in both severity and frequency over the last couple of decades, Farmers Weekly reports.
The extent of the flooding was captured by Swansea photographer Robert Melen, who flew a drone over local farmland. He explained to the news source: “The Towy Valley floodplain was left under several feet of water after torrential rainfall. Flooding in the area is getting far more frequent and more severe… these heavy spells of rain are getting worse.
“The floodwater just went on for miles. It severely affects farmers and restricts their movements and livelihoods. When flooding like this occurs, farms get cut off from the community. I don’t know how they cope. They can’t even get out to the shops.”
Devising flood plans can be very beneficial, particularly as it seems that incidents like these will become increasingly commonplace as time goes on, and landowners would perhaps be wise to investigate the various flood management strategies that are available to reduce the risk and protect their assets.
Natural flood management techniques
Investing in natural flood management measures can help drive down flood risks by replicating natural environmental processes and working to slow the flow of water.
These measures include river and floodplain management, woodland management and runoff management, all of which represent excellent opportunities for landowners to reduce the risks and afford their land the appropriate level of protection now and well into the future.
For example, farmers and landowners could invest in the likes of tree and hedgerow planting, woodland creation, sediment traps, leaky barriers to enhance floodplain storage and/or buffer strips to trap sediment and slow water flow.
Natural flood management techniques can deliver a wide range of different environmental and social benefits, including increasing tree canopy cover, increasing biodiversity, carbon sequestration and storage, wildlife habitat creation, improved water quality and the regeneration of both rural and urban areas.
One of the best strategies to invest in, however, is the planting and management of trees and woodlands, with a new study published on January 13th revealing that trees in Great Britain contribute more than £400 million annually in community benefits through flood risk reduction.
Carried out by Forest Research, the study’s valuation is based on the role that forests, woodlands and trees have to play in intercepting rainfall and storing water, reducing surface runoff that can lead to flooding.
Experts are expecting that extreme weather events like the intense rainfall we’ve seen over the last few months will become more frequent in the future because of climate change and rising global temperatures… but this new piece of research highlights how beneficial woodland expansion could be in delivering a natural and cost-effective way of protecting land, businesses and homes.
Commenting on the findings, Sir James Bevan – chief executive of the Environment Agency – said: “The warning signs of the climate crisis are stark and mounting – with greater rainfall, higher tides and more violent weather bringing heightened risks of serious flooding over the years ahead.
“The hard flood defences which the Environment Agency builds and maintains all across the country are part of the solution. So too are natural flood management techniques such as tree planting, which we are already using to slow the flow of water and help protect homes and businesses.
“By harnessing the power of nature, we can tackle the twin challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change – whilst simultaneously reducing the risk of flooding to vulnerable communities.”
How do forests reduce flooding?
Forests are effective at reducing flooding because of something that’s known as the ‘sponge effect’. Here, evaporation from leaves and branches reduces the amount of rain reaching the ground (interception), while forest soil receives, stores and delays water to reduce rapid runoff and peak flows.
And the trees themselves, as well as dams and shrubs on rivers and the floodplain, serve as barriers to slow floodwater downstream, as well as driving improvements in biodiversity.
Consequently, planting trees can have an impact on the timing, pathway and volume of surface water runoff, reducing downstream flooding risks… all of which can be supported through responsible forestry management.
Financial incentives for farmers
On January 5th, the government announced that farmers around the UK would receive increased payments for taking steps to protect and enhance nature, while providing sustainable food production.
More support will be provided to the industry through the Countryside Stewardship and the Sustainable Farming Incentive schemes, with farmers potentially able to receive up to £1,000 per year to invest in nature-friendly action.
This action could include creating hedgerows and flower-rich greasy areas in fields and incorporating more trees to serve as valuable natural resources on farms.
Mark Spencer, farming minister, said: “As custodians of more than 70 per cent of our countryside, the nation is relying on its farmers to protect our landscapes as well as produce the high-quality food we are known for and we are increasing payment rates to ensure farmers are not out of pocket for doing the right thing by the environment.
“By increasing the investment in these schemes, I want farmers to see this stacks up for business – whatever the size of your holding.”
Other benefits of tree planting for landowners, apart from flood risk reductions, include improved soil fertility, reduced effects of dry weather, reduced soil loss and pesticide/fertiliser runoff, reduced erosion and less need for gravel management, among others.
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