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Natural flood management is essential to protect communities

As the UK deals with the effects of Storm Ciara, Josh Wells, project manager at Trent Rivers Trust, writes that natural flood management (NFM) must now be used on a larger scale to protect communities from the increased risk.

Attempting to tame rivers by building ever taller walls and embankments is not a sustainable way to reduce flood risk, as we now acknowledge in the UK.

The negative impacts of artificial constraints on the ecological status of our rivers have been widely discussed. The investment and time required in building interventions are considerable too. So an integrated approach is needed which combines NFM, improving community resilience and methods to reduce urban runoff with hard engineered flood risk management.

In October the Environment Agency’s chief executive, Sir James Bevan, described how the EA’s teams on the ground are seeing more extreme rainfall and more extreme flooding. Flooding will become more frequent in the future as a result of the climate emergency, says Bevan. And in light of this threat, the paradigm shift to an integrated approach to flood management will be crucial.

Softer flood risk management measures such as NFM offer a wider range of benefits including habitat creation, carbon sequestration and sediment capture. When they are used as part of an integrated approach to flood risk management, sustainability is promoted and our rivers improved.

Such an approach has been taken by the Trent Rivers Trust during the FRAMES project in Southwell, Nottinghamshire.

It combines natural flood management implementation with improving community resilience and hard engineered flood risk management. It’s one of fifteen pilot projects across the North Sea region which investigated the impact of integrated approaches, finding that policy will need to change if integrated approaches are to be taken.

Currently, there is no governance structure to support the use of NFM and its future maintenance. Moreover, there is no funding in place to support, incentivise and encourage landowners to implement a public good on private land, in this case, temporary water storage.

If the UK is serious about reducing flood risk by installing NFM at a catchment scale, and making enough storage available to have a significant impact, we need to address the future sustainability of flood risk management approaches.

Josh Wells is a Project Manager at Trent Rivers Trust and will be speaking about integrated flood risk management at the Flood Risk Management for the Next Decade: A Multi-Layered Approach event.

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