Using our LANDWISEly for flood risk management

After recent large flood events, Natural Flood Management (NFM) has emerged over the last decade as a useful and sustainable alternative or complement to more traditional hard engineering solutions to reduce flood risk. Embanking, dredging and concreting rivers, while ignoring runoff-enhancing practices further upstream, can be a short-sighted and often counter-productive approach to flood management. Hard defences have also been associated with a degradation of the river ecosystem and negative impacts on fisheries, biodiversity, water quality and the aesthetical values of what could be described as the veins of the landscape.

NFM involves the adoption of a multitude of small-scale measures that mitigate flooding by restoring or enhancing natural processes in upstream catchment areas to slow the flow of water to reduce peaks in river flow that can cause serious flooding. NFM measures include woodland plantation, the creation of leaky dams and woody debris in small headwater streams, the creation of ponds and restoration of wetlands, the restoration of rivers to a more natural planform and floodplain connectivity, the use of green roofs, pervious pavements and other sustainable urban drainage systems in cities, etc. NFM measures also have potential to deliver multiple benefits in terms of water quality, soil conservation, biodiversity and amenity.

However, there is still limited quantitative evidence on the efficacy of NFM, particularly during the largest flood events. This is particularly the case for measures aiming to enhance infiltration, increase below ground storage, and reduce runoff production long before the water even reaches watercourses, such as soil decompaction methods, cover crops, novel crop rotations, no till arable systems, enhancement of the soil organic matter, hedges, buffer strips, etc.

LANDWISE (LAND Management in lowland catchments for Integrated flood riSk rEduction) is a new research project, led by the University of Reading (UoR) in collaboration with a number of other research institutions and project partners, which will precisely investigate the efficacy of land-based NFM measures to deliver catchment-scale reduction in flood risk.

The project will work at several nested spatial scales within the Thames basin. The Loddon Catchment is one of the three catchments where work will be particularly focussed.

The project has been designed in close collaboration with local stakeholders within the Loddon catchment, and more widely, within the West Thames basin: a number of individual farmers, the Loddon Farm Advice Project, NFU, FWAG, the National Trust, Affinity Water, Local Flood Resilience Groups and Residents Associations, local planning authorities, etc.  Input into the research design, delivery and evaluation by local people and organisations helps to keep the research relevant to those who manage and own land.

Over the next four years, the project will work with volunteering farmers and landowners to:

  • Understand what NFM measures could be realistically delivered now and in future within the Loddon catchment, using surveys, interviews and workshops;
  • Measure the soil properties and water movements (infiltration and/or evaporative losses) in fields where innovative land management is being practiced, and compare these with fields that are managed in a more traditional way.

If you are interested in learning more about LANDWISE, in participating to surveys and workshops, and/or in having measurements being taken from your fields with no disturbance to your current farming practices, please get in touch with Dr Joanna Clark, University of Reading (email: j.m.clark@reading.ac.uk).  For more information, please see the project web site (landwise-nfm.org) and Twitter (@NERC_NFM).