When is a flood a good flood?

, 09 July 2012

Author Fran Southgate

River Ouse in Flood / Tony Buckwell
River Ouse in Flood / Tony Buckwell

Iím sure no-one has escaped the almost apocalyptic media footage of recent flood events in Britain. For millions of years natural floods have been shaping our landscapes, whether via the melting of a glacier, or heavy rain on a mountainside, floods happen. But when humans stand in the pathway of floods, they can cause death and distress.

Flooding is particularly annoying when youíve just been told there is a drought, and the next minute youíre up to your knees in floodwater. It seems to beggar belief Ė surely somewhere, someone is getting it wrong? Either itís wet or itís dry but come on guys, letís make up our minds!

To some extent itís the old adage that a weed is just a plant in the wrong place. Itís the same with a flood Ė itís just water in the wrong place. A puddle is quite annoying when you put your un-wellied foot in it! But 10,000 small puddles in the landscape may actually store enough water safely in the countryside to help prevent a small flood, as well as helping to replenish our drinking water supplies as each puddle soaks into the soil.

There is a lot of fear and misconception around flooding. Believe it or not, a flood in the right place is a very helpful thing, as well as being good for wildlife. River floodplains are natures best way of accommodating high volumes of water following big rain storms. It is humans building towns in floodplains, and increasing the speed of water running off into rivers from concrete areas which results in the increase in Ďcatastrophicí modern flood events that we know.

We have started to realise that it is neither ethically, practically or economically viable to continue to fight flooding with more concrete, and that we will never be able to fully prevent urban and rural flooding, and nor should we be trying to. There are now a number of proven cases where the natural management of river floodplains has helped to create natural floodwater storage areas, which allow floods to be absorbed before they flow downstream into towns.

The Trees on the River Uck project is just one of these innovative flood management projects which hopes to help reduce flood risk by making use of natural landscape features to slow down and store floodwater. It is not a panacea, flooding is a natural thing and it is here to stay. However we can decide how we live with it, and whether we start supporting and thanking all the landowners who are storing the big ones for us so that our houses donít flood.

Homefield Park, Worthing 2012 / Dan Thompson
Homefield Park, Worthing 2012 / Dan Thompson

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