South East Rivers Trust

What is Natural Flood Management?


Part 1: An Introduction to NFM

Flooding has become an increasing problem in the UK and Europe. Here in Kent, we’ve witnessed a number of remarkable flood events in recent years, such as the floods of 2013, when on Christmas Eve 100 homes had to be evacuated in the village of Yalding, leaving costly damage to property and immense heartbreak in their wake.

Credit: ITV Meridian

Why are events like this becoming more frequent and more damaging?

There are three main causes:

  1. Historic pressure to build homes in flood prone areas;
  2. Shifts in weather patterns leading to dramatic extremes of weather;
  3. Long-term changes we’ve made to our landscapes.

It’s the last of these causes which Natural Flood Management seeks to address.

The ancient landscape of Great Britain looked very different from that of today. Most of the landscape was covered by a great forest with pristine rivers full of fish and wildlife running through them. Some trees such as the native Black Poplar had even evolved to deliberately topple over and resprout along their length – ‘walking’ along river courses. This helped cause the rivers to meander and the landscape as a whole acted as a huge sponge – soaking up downpours and then gradually and slowly releasing it throughout the year.

‘The Haywain’ – John Constable – the trees are the now rare Black Poplar

The landscape and our rivers are now much changed of course. We’ve cut down much of the forest, and our rivers have been “tidied up” and straightened. The historic drive to promote agriculture and forestry means that even the smallest brooks have been turned into channels with the sole purpose of shedding water off the land as quickly as possible. Furthermore, the use of heavy farm machinery and intensive stocking of cattle has compacted our soils, limiting their ability to absorb rainfall. The end result is that now when the rain falls on the land, it flows downstream in one quick rush, headlong towards the first village or town in its path.

Natural Flood Management seeks opportunities to reverse this process where possible. Pioneering projects in places like Pickering, Stroud, and Calderdale have shown that it’s possible to restore rivers and landscapes to increase the natural resilience of the environment to flooding. Working with nature is proving to be a cost-effective approach, which at the same time can provide other benefits to farm businesses, for biodiversity and for communities.

We are working with a range of partners in the Medway Flood Partnership and the EU Interreg North Sea FRAMES project to tackle flooding at every level possible: protecting individual homes, increasing community response, traditional flood engineering works, increasing environmental resilience and disaster recovery.

Volunteers installing dams at Bedgebury as part of the NFM project

Our role is to pioneer Natural Flood Management techniques in our region and adapt them to the local conditions of soil, landscape and farm enterprises. We’ve been working on the ground for over a year now, and already have one pilot project in place. We’re working with many helpful and supportive landowners who are keen to help the communities downstream of them.

Keep an eye out for our next NFM blog to hear more about our plans and work on the ground.

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2 comments on “What is Natural Flood Management?

[…] of our previous blogs explained what Natural Flood Management is and how it works. But how do we know that Natural Flood Management (NFM) is having the desired […]

[…] have previously introduced the concept of Natural Flood Management (NFM) in an earlier blog. In the Medway Catchment (below), the South East Rivers Trust is delivering NFM with a range of […]

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