By Fran Southgate
Living Landscapes Advisor
"A nation ready for, and resilient to, flooding and coastal change. Today, tomorrow and beyond."
This week, the Environment Agency (EA) launched their draft National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England. It’s a fairly sobering, if upbeat account of how in the face of climate change, it is no longer realistic to manage increasingly intense flooding and sea level rise with limitlessly high flood walls and barriers.
In a country where we are surrounded by sea, and a large number of our human settlements are at (or below) sea level, the Vision highlights the urgency of embracing a new philosophy for managing a range of sources of flooding and coastal change. The report states clearly that as a nation we cannot sit back and wait to see what happens, but that we need to be pro-active in our adaptation to our changing environment, and to assist those who through bad luck or circumstance find themselves victim of the more catastrophic elements of this change.
Through evaluation of the science on climate change, the new Flood Risk Management Strategy presses home that we need to be prepared for a 2°C rise in global temperatures, but concludes that we will be lucky to reach these climate change targets – and that we therefore need to plan for a 4°C temperature rise. To do this, the EA estimates that we need an average UK investment of at least £1 billion a year in flooding and coastal change infrastructure for the next 50 years. (EA, 2019, long term investment scenarios). Without this investment, the damage to our livelihoods and economies is likely to be much higher. Flooding, and managing it, currently cost the UK around £2.2 billion each year, and in England and Wales alone, over 4 million people and properties valued at over £200 billion are at risk of flooding.
The new strategy sets out how we can take urgent and immediate action so that we can live in climate resilient places that are able to manage and adapt to flooding and coastal change. This will involve a move from the idea of flood protection, to the idea of landscape scale flood resilience. The scale of current and potential future flooding and coastal change is significant, and as the frequency of flood events increases, the nature and scale at which we manage them will need to change too.
The document also sets out who we need to work with in order to achieve this resilience to climate change and flooding. It is not just down to the Environment Agency, but to everyone from local Councils and Highways Agencies, to the community gardener installing an extra water butt, to help us to adapt. We can only achieve these huge changes by working together.
In combination with engineered flood solutions, natural flood management offers opportunities to adapt to changing flood risks, and to increase community resilience to flooding (and drought). Sussex Wildlife Trust is already working in partnership with the Environment Agency, Woodland Trust and Lewes District Council to help our local communities to adapt to flooding through our Sussex Flow Initiative project. We welcome your support in the coming years to help us deliver more climate change and flood risk adaptation.