Working Washlands

, 04 December 2017
Working Washlands

By Fran Southgate

Living Landscapes Advisor

We’ve mentioned Natural Flood Management before – but what does that look like on the ground?There are all sorts of things we can do to slow and store water in our landscapes – planting trees and hedgerows, digging ponds, putting natural wood back in streams and more. We can also restore natural washlands – but what are they?

Washlands are areas of land where water can spread out, slow down and be stored temporarily, whilst it’s flooding. Some of the biggest potential for storing excess flood water when it’s raining hard is in our smaller stream floodplains. These are often where the land use is less intensive, and where there is space for water to come and go periodically without adversely affecting people and farming.

Water tends to have a mind of its own, but on the whole it follows the line of least resistance. If we can create those lines of least resistance in the right places, then suddenly water is flowing into all the areas we want it to, rather than into our houses. At the same time, we can provide climate regulation, water purification, pollination, wildlife habitat, better green spaces for people and much more.

This week we spent a couple of days with an obliging landowner and a digger, restoring the relict course of an old chalk stream. Diverted decades ago to feed a local mill, the old stream bed only really gets wet now when it floods. The local landowner saw the potential to make the stream a more active flood relief channel, and we went to work.

It’s fantastic watching it take shape. All we needed to do was to make it easier for the flood water to find the old stream channel, and the water and natural gravity will do the rest. We’re only half way through the project, and already we have created around 100 tonnes of extra flood water storage, as well as a fantastic area of habitat for wetland wildlife.

.. now we just need some rain to check that it works !!

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