Tackling water with wetlands - WWT urges the creation of more nature-based solutions to tackle flooding

After Storm Christopher, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) is calling for more natural wetlands in the UK to stop this type of catastrophic flooding from recurring.

Conservationists are again pushing for a flood control overhaul after thousands of residents in northwest England and Wales were evacuated from their homes and a warehouse that was storing Oxford vaccine was compromised when the Atlantic extreme weather event struck last week. Local communities are still grappling with the aftermath this week. There are currently 32 flood warnings and 54 flood warnings in the UK.

Wetlands – areas that are either permanently or seasonally covered or saturated with water – help protect communities by naturally preventing and mitigating the effects of flooding. WWT urges that more of these habitats be effectively incorporated into the UK government’s flood control policy ahead of World Wetlands Day on February 2nd, 2021 as part of a natural solution to floods.

Tim McGrath, Senior Project Manager, Wetland Landscapes at WWT, said: We can combat water with wetlands. It might seem counterintuitive, but adding water in the right places can help prevent flooding. Naturally rich wetlands such as wet grasslands, moors, moors, bogs and salt marshes absorb excess water and slowly release it back into the river systems. This provides a sustainable long term solution to the increasing risk of flooding and unpredictable weather conditions caused by climate change.

Greenshank, Copyright Glyn Sellors, from the Surfbirds Galleries

Britain has lost 90% of its wetlands in the past 400 years[i]. In cities, rivers and streams were built over, and wetlands, which would have previously absorbed and stored excess water flows, drained and canalized. In rural areas, historic wetlands have been drained for agriculture and development. The impact of these losses will become more severe as climate change increases the volatility of our weather.

Physical flood barriers such as concrete walls and dredging can protect homes and businesses from flooding, but the cost of building and maintaining large-scale flood control measures for every village, town, and piece of land that is flooded is prohibitive. Other options are urgently needed if local homes and communities are to be more effectively protected in the future.

Natural Flood Management (NFM), a term that describes the use of ponds, floodplains, and moist forests to manage and maintain water on land for longer, offers a more natural, sustainable, and cost-effective way to mitigate risk, which is several Can bring benefits for humans and animals.

WWT is an expert in wetland creation, restoration and management to naturally relieve flooding in urban and rural areas, and has been for many years. It has worked with local authorities and other conservation organizations on natural flood management projects in the Cotswolds, Stroud and Gloucester. In Somerset, where workers have hedged and created wetlands to protect residents, the Trust recently received £ 1.58 million from the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund to further protect and improve the coast there.

Carina Gaertner of WWT, who oversees the project in Somerset, said: Over-managed landscapes have destroyed one of nature’s great flood protection areas – wetlands. Over the past two hundred years we have been guilty of poorly managed wetlands, cleared, straightened and rehabilitated waterways. Drain water as quickly as possible – but cause flooding downstream. We need to rewind the clock and make our rivers, streams and other wetlands wild again. We need to change our mindset to a less neat approach, so that the water is kept in the landscape for as long as possible so that it can flow slowly through the catchment area over a long period of time, rather than racing off land in a flash flood.

In urban areas, rainwater has long been treated as waste that is discharged from cities and towns via runoffs that can overflow and enter the sewage system after periods of heavy rain. WWT promotes SuDS – sustainable drainage systems. They cope with the rain where it hits the ground or roof, slowing the flow of water and cleaning it as it passes. The water is then retained in a system of ponds, swallows, rain gardens and filter strips that can be placed anywhere. Because they contain water and plants, they can help wildlife in the same way that natural wetlands can.

The cost of Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis, which hit the UK in early 2020, is still being calculated. Hundreds of businesses were badly damaged across the country. Early estimates put the insurance industry cost of both storms could reach £ 425 million. By 2050, the average annual losses from coastal and river flooding in England and Wales could rise to £ 1.6 billion to £ 6.8 billion[ii].

WWT is working closely with organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency to create a range of evidence that can be used to convince governments, businesses, landowners and property owners to invest in wetlands – be it wooden dams, urban rain gardens or salt marshes – as a nature-based solution Reducing floods.

For more information on how natural wetlands reduce flooding, visit wwt.org.uk/flooding.

Case study

Lauren Turner, 27, of Warrington, Cheshire, had to be evacuated by boat with her three young children, ages 6, 2, and 2 months after Storm Christoph.

I started worrying on Wednesday evening when the water level crept up the garden. When I woke up at 6 a.m. the next morning, the electrical system was gone. It wasn’t until I got to the top of my stairs that I noticed the entire first floor of our house, which was covered in cloudy water.

It was terrifying. My poor six year old was heartbroken because he didn’t understand what was happening and thought that the water would keep rising and we couldn’t escape.

We stayed up until the lifeboats came for us that afternoon. The fire departments were brilliant and it was the first time I could relax and that my kids and I were safe.

I am currently living with my children’s father. We are co-parents and luckily we have a good relationship.

I don’t know when we can move in again. We have been told that the flood has mixed with the sewage, so not only does the floors need to be replaced, but the house needs a thorough cleaning too. Everything on the first floor has been destroyed and needs to be replaced, including my sofa, a bookcase, my rug, and the children’s toys that were below. I have no idea what the cost will be, but I can’t afford to do this on a regular basis.

Apparently this area is prone to flooding at this time of year, but my neighbors have said they have never seen it this badly.

As a community, we hope that something will be done so that we don’t have to experience it again. We are all very concerned.

I have never experienced flooding and it has completely changed the way I feel about my home. I used to feel safe there – I loved it – but now I’m scared that we have to go through this as a family every year.