Author Tony Whitbread
Sussex Wildlife Trust urges MPs in the County to make the case to work with nature rather than fight against it in a forthcoming parliamentary debate on flooding, on 3rd March.
There is a parliamentary debate on flood risk preceded by a parliamentary briefing chaired by Richard Benyon MP on 3rd March. It is important that all our Sussex MPs go there and make a strong case for working with nature to improve our resilience to a changing climate. We are writing to all our MPs to encourage them to do so. A little extra lobbying from readers of this article would also help!
The impacts of the recent floods mean that there has never been a stronger incentive to re-think our relationship with water, and how we use and manage urban and rural land. The floods have tended to stimulate knee-jerk reactions in some but the answer to reduced flood risk is not simple. Indeed it maybe that it is the simplistic answers of the past that have caused much of the problem.
Key measures to reduce flood risk involve looking at the whole catchment, rather than focusing on one perceived solution, such as dredging. Whilst sensitive dredging, as part of a package of measures, can help in some circumstances, it can also be counter-productive; adding to flood risk downstream, risking damage to river banks, reducing water quality and damaging wildlife habitats. Imagining that dredging is the soul solution is to offer cruel false hope to those who suffered in the floods.
Water issues need to be addressed in a holistic way, across whole river catchments with nature is a major, cost-efficient ally in helping us manage flood risk. This is the message in a recent CIWEM report and on The Wildlife Trusts web page. The management of our landscape needs a fundamental shift in thinking towards the large scale restoration and creation of networks of healthy habitats that will increase our resilience to extreme weather events.
Working with nature, not against it, is the key.
Whole catchment measures should involve managing land so it can more effectively absorb and store rainwater. This can be done by encouraging tree growth in river headwaters, by developing buffer strips of natural vegetation along watercourses and by restoring grasslands to help soak up water.
More places should be created where water can be held back and stored – washlands of natural wetland habitats which absorb water in peak times and slowly release it between rainstorms.
We should manage our rivers themselves so they function more naturally. Instead of treating them as pipes through which we attempt to force water quickly out to sea, we should allow room for rivers to take their natural course. River water would then be slowed down so peaks do not build up quickly and flood-waters do not rush as quickly on to the next pinch-point.
These approaches would mean that some areas, flood plains, would be encouraged to act as flood plains – absorbing flood waters that would otherwise damage people’s houses and inundate valuable areas for food production.
Key to all of this, however, is the provision of financial mechanisms to enable this to happen. Allowing room for flood water involves working with farmers on farmed land. By helping to manage flood water, farmers are providing an enormous and cost-effective public service in reducing flood risk and should be paid handsomely for it. Even a highly lucrative package of incentives to farmers would be far less costly to the public purse than allowing our towns and cities to flood.