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Using Natural Flood Management to Tackle Urban Flood Resilience

Using Natural Flood Management to Tackle Urban Flood Resilience

As England faces the escalating threats of urban floods, finding effective and sustainable solutions becomes imperative. In recent years, Natural Flood Management (NFM) has emerged as a promising approach to mitigating the impact of flooding in urban areas, writes our Project Manager, Tarun Ingvorsen.

NFM harnesses the power of nature to manage and reduce flood risks, offering a cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional engineering solutions. In this blog post, we will explore how England can leverage NFM to enhance urban flood resilience and create a safer and more sustainable future.

Natural Flood Management refers to a set of techniques that work with natural processes to manage rainfall and floodwater. The aim is to slow down the flow of water, store it temporarily, and encourage it to infiltrate the ground. This reduces the volume and speed of runoff during heavy rainfall events, entering and overwhelming a watercourse and causing flooding. There are several NFM interventions we can use. For example:

  • Tree Planting: Trees play a crucial role in NFM, as their roots help increase soil permeability, allowing water to be absorbed into the ground rather than running off the surface. Forests and woodland areas act as natural sponges, absorbing rainfall and reducing flood risk downstream. It is important however, to ensure that the right tree species are being planted in the right places and that optimal tree cover is being achieved. Too much tree cover is just as bad as no tree cover.
  • Wetland Restoration: Restoring wetlands and creating new ones can significantly improve flood resilience. Wetlands act as natural storage areas, absorbing and holding excess water during heavy rainfall, thus reducing downstream flood peaks.
  • Floodplain Reconnection: Reconnecting rivers to their floodplains allows water to spread across a wider area during floods, reducing the force of the water downstream. This process mimics the natural flood patterns of rivers, mitigating flood risks in urban areas.
  • Riverbank Naturalisation: Naturalising riverbanks by planting native vegetation helps stabilise them and prevents erosion. This approach helps maintain the natural flow of rivers and reduces the risk of bank breaches during floods.

Benefits of NFM:

  • Sustainability: NFM techniques are environmentally friendly, as they work with nature rather than against it. They promote biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and overall ecosystem health.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: NFM is often more cost-effective than conventional engineering solutions. Many NFM techniques require less maintenance and offer long-term benefits, making them a viable option for flood management.
  • Beyond flood resilience: NFM can provide additional benefits like improved water quality, habitat restoration, recreation and increased wellbeing.
  • Community Engagement: NFM projects often involve local communities in planning and implementation, fostering a sense of ownership and empowerment. Engaging communities in flood management initiatives can lead to more sustainable outcomes.
  • Climate Change Adaptation: With climate change intensifying rainfall patterns, NFM provides a flexible and adaptable approach to managing urban flood risks.

While NFM shows great promise, some challenges need to be addressed for successful implementation in urban areas. These can include:

  • Land Use and Space Constraints: In densely populated urban environments, finding suitable spaces for large-scale NFM interventions can be challenging. Strategic planning and collaboration between local authorities and landowners are essential to overcome these constraints.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation: Proper monitoring and evaluation of NFM projects are crucial to assessing their effectiveness. Data collection helps refine techniques and identify successful approaches.
  • Funding and Investment: Securing funding for NFM projects can be a hurdle. Governments and private investors must recognise the long-term benefits and cost-effectiveness of NFM and allocate resources accordingly.

As urban floods continue to threaten England’s cities, adopting Nature-based Flood Management (NFM) presents an innovative and sustainable way forward. By integrating NFM techniques like tree planting, wetland restoration, and floodplain reconnection, England can build resilience against floods while promoting environmental health and community engagement. Embracing NFM as a fundamental pillar of urban flood management will not only protect lives and property but also foster a harmonious relationship between society and nature. With collective effort and commitment, NFM can play a pivotal role in creating flood-resilient urban environments and securing a safer and sustainable future for generations to come.