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    Managing Water Naturally Reduces Flooding
31/01/08

England's National Parks and farmland landscapes could hold the key to long-term, cost effective flood prevention, said Natural England this week, as it gives evidence to the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee inquiry into flooding.

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Thriving wetlands, restored peat bogs and free-flowing rivers are recommended by Natural England to reduce the harmful effects of flooding. By increasing the natural capacity of the countryside to absorb and hold excess water, the risk of flooding could be dramatically decreased.

“Investing more money in traditional flood defences by constructing concrete and earth embankments may no longer be adequate or sustainable in the long-term. We must look to more sustainable solutions including those involving land-use change,” said Andrew Wood, Natural England's Executive Director for Evidence & Policy, at the committee inquiry today.”

"The capacity of the countryside to absorb water must be increased. To do this we must start by reversing changes made to landscapes. Restoration of peat bogs in northern uplands would slow water reaching the streams and lowland rivers, reducing the threat to towns such as Ripon, Hull and Sheffield – all of which have experienced severe flooding. The re-creation of wetlands will increase the capacity of flood plains at times of peak risk and help to protect some of our larger towns such as Peterborough, which is downstream of the Nene Washes an area used as overspill for the river channel.”

"The increased probability of extreme rainfall that climate change heralds, strengthens the case for well managed landscapes. “Flood friendly” land management also benefits biodiversity, woodland management, pollution reduction and carbon storage. They are not a replacement for, but a necessary complement to existing flood defences," concluded Andrew Wood.

Natural England believes that restoring rivers, by removing structures such as redundant weirs, will reduce flooding upstream including the River Wensum, in Norfolk. The Lincoln Washlands scheme is a rare instance of washland creation specifically designed for flood defence and biodiversity; whilst successful peat bog and moorland restoration is demonstrated by work in the Peak District and Bowland Fells.

Andrew Wood and James Marsden are giving evidence on Wednesday 30 January to the Environment Food and Rural Affairs select committee inquiry into flooding, held at Lincoln, at 2.00 pm.

Managing flood risk

Restoration of peat bogs

The uplands of the Pennines, such as those above Sheffield, are criss-crossed by over 30,000km of moor grips most of which were funded by Government grants in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Rainfall which used to be absorbed by peat bogs, rushes through these moorland drains into streams and lowland rivers, threatening the towns on their banks. The floods which occurred in Ripon in 2000 - and again in June 2007 - are a case in point. Restoration of these peat bogs will not only benefit precious wildlife habitat, but also reduce run-off. Natural England with partners at the Peak District National Park and United Utilities have been working on a variety of initiatives across the North Pennines and the Bowland Fells to get this work moving. The other benefit of restoring these habitats is sheer quantities of carbon that they store: there is more carbon stored in the UK’s peat than in all the forests of Britain and France combined. All of the peatlands in England and Wales would absorb around 41,000 tonnes of carbon a year if in a pristine condition but could emit up to 381,000 tonnes of carbon a year if they are damaged by practices such as excessive burning, drainage and over-grazing. The restoration and enhancement of peatlands could save around 400,000 tonnes a year, which is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from 1.1 billion car miles or 84,000 family-sized cars.

Recreation of wetlands

Natural England is a partner in the 50-year Wetland Vision project, which is seeking to recreate floodplain wetland habitats - not just washlands - in suitable localities. An example is the Great Fen project, intended to link two National Nature Reserves (Holme Fen and Woodwalton Fen) south of Peterborough. This will also contribute to the new UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) target to create 8 landscape-scale wetland complexes, and add to the flood storage capacity in the Middle Level.

Free-flowing rivers

Removal of in-channel structures from rivers has multiple benefits. The River Wensum, a European Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in Norfolk, where the removal or lowering of three redundant mill weirs is seen as the most cost-effective solution to flooding problems in the upstream villages. This is also a key step in a river restoration plan for the River Wensum SAC, 67% of which is backed up from such structures. This is the first whole-river restoration strategy in England. It is led by Natural England, in partnership with the Environment Agency and the Norfolk Rivers IDB. It has synergies not only with the flood-management strategy, but also with the Fisheries Action Plan and the Wensum Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) project.

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