The Government, in conjunction with farmers, landowners and the third sector, has made progress in exploring how management of the uplands can contribute towards flood mitigation in the lowlands. This can be achieved through the use of natural processes, such as natural flood management, as well as changing land use and behaviours to better manage the flow of water.
Each catchment is different and requires a unique approach to management but natural flood management measures can be implemented across any area e.g. uplands, lowlands, urban and rural. These measures can include tree planting, leaky debris dams and peatbog restoration on upper slopes, flood washlands and river re-connection and naturalisation mid-catchment and management and creation of coastal marsh and sand dune systems in coastal areas.
There is evidence that natural flood management measures, that are appropriately designed and situated, can help manage flood and coastal risks, often alongside other measure, and can also provide other benefits to the natural environment, including but not limited to habitat creation, increased biodiversity and improved water quality. The Environment Agency (EA) has published an evidence directory which summarises the effectiveness of working with natural processes, from a flood risk and wider ecosystem perspective.
This work is supported and encouraged by the Government and complements its record capital investment programme in flood defences. There are currently approximately 40 capital schemes, led by the EA, that include natural flood management measures and the Government expects this to increase. Alongside this successive governments have invested in specific natural flood management programmes. This includes a £15 million programme supporting more than 55 projects, looking at the effectiveness of these interventions including in the uplands. These projects will enable new approaches to be tested and will help determine where natural measures can be most effective.
Similarly the Government has used the Countryside Stewardship Scheme to promote natural process and flood mitigation. For instance, grants are available for the creation and restoration of wetland habitats, tree planting, grip blocking and leaky woody dams. In particular the Facilitation Fund brings farmers and other land managers together to improve the natural environment at a landscape rather than single-farm scale to achieve greater improvements than individual holdings could on their own. One round in 2017 offered funding to groups who implemented natural flood management measures to manage the flow of water.
Looking ahead our exit from the European Union will enable us to leave the Common Agricultural Policy and move to a more ambitious and effective system based on the principles of ‘public money for public goods’. This new scheme will enable land managers to enter into agreements to be paid for delivering a range of public goods set out in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. This includes mitigation of and reduced risk from environmental hazards, such as flooding which could be achieved through natural flood management.