The county’s largest nature conservation charity has been using Natural Flood Management (NFM) techniques for several years to mitigate the effects of flooding, and are now calling for it to be pushed up the agenda in protecting communities from flooding and in making our land climate resilient.
Twelve months ago, Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis brought some of the worst flooding ever experienced across the UK. In Staffordshire they left widespread disruption in their wake, with the town of Stafford experiencing the worst flooding event in over 20 years. The Trust says that the aftermath of the storms is a clear sign that traditional flood management alone will not combat future extreme weather events, NFM must be in the toolbox.
NFM is a holistic approach to flood management working at a whole catchment scale. In the headwaters of a catchment leaky dams created by felling trees across a watercourse slow the flow of water whilst also providing habitat. Ponds and reedbeds not only store water but help to clean it too, whilst good management of upland habitats means that our land can act as a ‘sponge’ by absorbing and storing water. In the lower reaches, allowing rivers to reconnect to their floodplains provides enormous water storage areas and amazing habitat. It all works together to delay the time water takes to flow downstream. By slowing the flow and holding water away from homes and businesses in new wetlands and complex habitats, communities are better protected from the risk of flooding
The Trust has pioneered projects such as ‘Farming Floodplains for the Future’ in 2007, which highlighted how the farmed landscape can be viably managed in ways that reduce flood risk downstream whilst enhancing the natural environment. Since that project The Trust have gained a reputation for working with private landowners and farmers, and are delivering some innovative projects across the county now.
This year The Trust were awarded £84,000 from the Environment Agency to set up a Small Grants Scheme in the Marchington Brook catchment, this will see landowners applying for funds to implement NFM measures on their land. A further £55,000 was awarded to start work in the Upper Sow catchments, where engagement with landowners will lead to NFM measures being delivered in priority areas. A £320,000 Water Environment Grant from the Environment Agency is being put to work in a number of catchments to help improve water quality and restore and create habitats.
NFM has to be a collaborative approach that works at a landscape scale, so landowners are essential to the success of these projects. The Trust run two farmer training groups, one in the Whiston Brook and one in the Upper Sow. Landowners receive information and practical demonstrations of NFM measures, as well as understanding what the issues are in their catchment and how they can be part of the solution.
The Trust is also part of a new project called Stafford Brooks that will seek to improve habitats, water quality and provide more flood mitigation opporuntities through the town centre of Stafford.
Meanwhile, one of the Trust’s key priorities is working towards a Nature Recovery Network which also feeds into what the charity is doing to tackle climate change and flooding.
David Cadman, Senior Conservation Manager for the Trust, said: “We were extremely encouraged earlier this month to hear MPs from Staffordshire mention NFM as a tool in tackling flooding, but we do need a stronger and clearer stance on it from government to help us continue with our work.
“The recent floods have highlighted the vulnerability of our current flood storage system, and it’s why we’re keen for authorities across Staffordshire to realise the role they have in mitigating its effects and how important natural processes can be in tackling the problem.”