Working with nature to reduce flood risk
Today, flood risk is a serious and growing concern along many waterways, not just in Britain but on a global scale. Conventional flood defences, which are typically constructed using man-made materials such as metal and concrete, may solve problems locally, but can be hugely detrimental to downstream communities, local wildlife and habitats.
Such conventional structures tend to canalise waterways and speed up the flow of water, increasing the damage caused by flood events. Moreover, they often cause rivers to become silted and denuded of natural vegetation – vegetation which would ordinarily attenuate water flow, provide valuable habitat for wildlife, and enhance rivers and their environs as places for people to enjoy.
With climate change intensifying rainfall patterns, sustainable flood management solutions are becoming increasingly important as a viable and preferable alternative to conventional flood defences. Natural Flood Management (NFM) solutions are sympathetic to the surrounding landscape and the way it is used; they not only enhance water attenuation, but also help to restore nature, to the benefit of local and downstream environments and communities.
At Ecosulis, we work with key stakeholders and environmental organisations to design and implement the best NFM solutions for a specific location – whether that be a floodplain, a river channel, or a network of ditches draining woodland. This often involves the use of local material such as large woody debris and brash to slow water flow, as well as measures to divert water flow and enhance existing natural wetland features.
NFM solutions provide a wide range of benefits to both communities and the surrounding environment. Pilot schemes in the UK (see below) have already proven that NFM can improve biodiversity as well as reduce the impact of flood events – this is backed up by evidence from other countries.
From a community perspective, the main aim of NFM is to reduce the frequency and scale of flood events – these often have devastating consequences, particularly in terms of property damage. By using nature-based techniques such as leaky dam and oxbow bund creation, we can also reduce the risk of water contamination, which frequently occurs when rapid flows wash out vegetation and disturb riverbed silt. Such siltation can be detrimental to natural ecosystems and reduce the quality of water in river systems.
Natural flood management work carried out by Ecosulis on the River Soar in Leicestershire.
The Ecosulis approach
At Ecosulis we pride ourselves on our innovative approach to NFM. Leveraging our wide-ranging expertise, we provide an end-to-end service that encompasses everything from initial proposal evaluation and assessment of design suitability and buildability through to the construction of NFM features and ongoing monitoring and maintenance.
Due to the dynamic nature of riversides and floodplains, it is common for unpredictable issues to arise – such as the discovery of protected species, access constraints, or flood episodes themselves. Having delivered NFM solutions for over 30 years, our team can identify and mitigate such risks, helping to avoid potentially costly delays.
Our ongoing memberships of BALI, CIWEM, CIEEM, CIEMA and Supply Chain for Sustainability, as well as our ecological background, mean we deliver a high level of expertise at every stage of an NFM project. ISO accreditations such as ISO9001, ISO14001, OHSAS 45001, Constructionline, and CHAS demonstrate our commitment to upholding the highest quality, environmental and H&SE standards.
Working in context
Before implementing any NFM project we work closely with both the surrounding community and key stakeholders to evaluate and examine possible concerns, risks, or issues that may constrain the delivery of work. We also co-design solutions, identifying opportunities to add value, such as the creation of important habitat features or public access areas.
Seasonality plays a vital role in our work. It often influences when and how we implement NFM projects; we may avoid times of year when birds are nesting or where heavy rainfall could give rise to access issues. Late summer is often the optimal time to carry out practical NFM work.
NFM can involve several strategies and techniques, from the use of bunds to the restoration of naturally occurring meanders in rivers. We always select the technique or techniques which will deliver the best results possible. Our experience shows that even at the time of project delivery, specific changes may need to be made so that NFM features fit within the local environment or take account of localised restrictions.
This is where taking a co-design approach pays off, as all partners have shared ownership over both the problems and solutions that arise throughout the project life cycle. Our extensive experience has taught us that NFM efforts carried out alone typically produce sub-optimal results. This is why we always forge strong relationships with all involved. Through positive collaboration, we can develop and deliver timely solutions that meet contractual and budgetary requirements.
Scaling up NFM
NFM is an increasingly valuable nature-based solution that can play an important role addressing both our climate and biodiversity emergencies. For it to have a truly meaningful impact, however, it needs to be implemented at scale. Where possible, a catchment-based approach may be the most suitable option – implementing features along an entire waterway, as was the case in our work on the River Soar in Leicestershire.
Ecosulis is committed to the promotion and delivery of natural solutions that accelerate nature recovery and benefit local communities. Our NFM projects achieve this by taking a partnership approach, leveraging our expertise to design practical and cost-effective solutions, building an understanding of the constraints and opportunities within a catchment, and gaining the confidence of local communities.
Want to know more?To learn more about NFM, our work, and the services that we can offer, please visit the case studies section on our website or contact Tom Matthews ([email protected]). And stay tuned for an upcoming Ecosulis-hosted NFM webinar!
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