Cumbria Wildlife Trust ask: Could ‘slowing the flow’ help stop the risk of flooding?

lood risk: New ways are being considered to reduce flooding in Cumbria. Photo by Robert Haile.

lood risk: New ways are being considered to reduce flooding in Cumbria. Photo by Robert Haile.

CUMBRIA Wildlife Trust is calling for the Government to look at alternative ways of reducing flooding.

The local wildlife charity has found mounting evidence that slowing the flow of water through river catchments can help to delay and reduce the magnitude of flooding.

To help communities at risk of flooding, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency recently created a Slow the Flow partnership which is looking to work with landowners, farmers, rivers trusts and agencies such as Natural England and Forestry Commission to help communities.

Tim Jacobs, Slow the Flow Project Officer based with Cumbria Wildlife Trust, said: “Water movement through river catchments can be slowed by restoring blanket bog at the top of hills, by creating woods and hedgerows, re-meandering rivers and re-connecting rivers with their flood plains. As well as enriching the rural landscape, slowing the flow of water can also help biodiversity, improve water quality and sequester more carbon from the atmosphere.
This is a great opportunity to help protect communities from future flooding, to benefit wildlife and to enrich the rural landscapes of the North West. As well as building in additional flood resilience into the landscape, evidence suggests that slowing the flow is more cost effective and sustainable than traditional flood alleviation schemes, although Cumbria Wildlife Trust is recommending that it is considered alongside traditional flood defence schemes, to provide greater alleviation, rather than replacing them.”

Tim explained: “Evidence suggests that Slow the Flow schemes offer the greatest flood protection to communities higher up catchments, typically where there is small number of properties at risk.  For example, the Stockdalewath community in the Eden Valley has been working closely with Eden Rivers Trust and the Environment Agency to reduce flooding from the Roe and Ive becks. There, local landowners have been improving water infiltration of their soils, helping to reduce water flow through the village. To provide even greater flood resilience, the community are hoping to use the results of a locally-focused university research project to inform their next Slow the Flow actions.”

Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Thacka Beck Nature Reserve, in Penrith, is an example of where flood defence and the natural environment have come together to defend a Cumbrian town from flooding.

Thacka Beck has flooded Penrith in the past but improvements to the culverts beneath the town and creation of a flood storage nature reserve in 2010 by the Environment Agency have helped reduce the risk of flooding from the beck, from a 20 percent chance in any given year to a 1 percent chance.

This helped Penrith to escape flooding when many other communities in Cumbria suffered.

Kevin Scott, Northern Reserves Officer for Cumbria Wildlife Trust said “Penrith was unaffected by the recent floods, thanks to engineering and natural processes coming together to create a brilliant flood defence. Up to 76,000m2 of flood water can be held back in the storage basin at Thacka Beck Nature Reserve, protecting around 380 homes and businesses in Penrith. The section of Thacka Beck that runs through the nature reserve has been realigned so that it slowly meanders its way through, as it might have done 600 years ago, before it was straightened, slowing down the flow of water. The nature reserve is great for wildlife too. Wet grassland is an excellent home for insects, which in turn encourages a wide range of birds. The drier areas are managed as hay meadows with wild flowers, such as yellow rattle and knapweed, and of course the water itself is great for frogs, toads, newts and dragonflies.”