Building houses in floodplains is nonsensical says Dr Tony Whitbread Chief Executive of the Sussex Wildlife Trust. He is also concerned that the simplistic messages often promoted on social media that flooding equals lack of dredging is causing upset and confusion with bizarre claims that rivers are being left un-dredged to protect wildlife.
In fact, the opposite is the case, as careful management of river catchments reduces flood risk downstream with the added bonus of encouraging a rich and varied wildlife.
Dr Whitbread said, ‘How we manage river valleys can increase, or reduce, the flood risk to people living downstream. Building hard flood defences, concreting land, woodland removal and river dredging upstream increases flood risk. But, allowing flood plains to flood, and then slowly releasing water afterwards, reduces the height of a river in flood when we experience huge amounts or persistent rainfall. Water has to go somewhere; if we defend or dredge one area then the water will just go somewhere else. If we prevent flood plains from flooding (there’s a clue in the name!) then water will move to the next weak point, often an urban area.’
He continued, ‘In Sussex, there are now many examples of landowners doing woodland planting, washland creation and river re-naturalisation to reduce flood risk and benefit wildlife. What is needed is good government policy and financial packages to enable it to happen on a large scale. There is a place for dredging and hard defences but within a far more sophisticated approach to managing the whole catchment.