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Scientists reveal: Cumbria’s Floodplains face uncertain future

Pic 190% of floodplains across the country have been so severely changed that they no longer work properly, according to a new report, released today by Co-op Insurance and The University of Salford.

Having been on the ground in the aftermath of Storm Desmond, which disrupted five thousand homes and hundreds of communities, Co-op Insurance has seen first-hand the impact floods can have on lives.

For that reason, Co-op Insurance has funded environmental experts at the University of Salford to find out why flooding is getting worse and what impact this has on communities.

The study, the first of its kind conducted across Cumbria reveals that as 90% of floodplains are no longer able to withhold water, water now flows downstream more quickly. This puts greater pressures on towns and villages, where flood defences are now not able to cope.

How floodplains have changed:

  • 65% have been modified meaning they’re now man-made, smoother surfaces
  • 9% have been lost to urban and suburban developments
  • 4% is occupied by open water
  • 6% is occupied by woodland and rough grassland
  • 0.5% is occupied by wetland

Furthermore, the study reveals the significant lengthening of the River Eden due to the floodplain being unable to cope with the water. In 1890, the total river length was 2270.3km, yet in 2016, the river measured 3439.71km – an increase of 116.41km.

This has resulted in floodwater moving downstream more rapidly meaning that water reaches towns and villages more quickly.

Highlighting the impact that floods have on communities, following the effects of Storm Desmond, Co-op’s claims data reveals that 117 insurance claims were made in Carlisle with the average buildings claim totalling £44,000.

Furthermore, when surveying UK adults who have been affected by natural floods, three fifths (58%) stated they believe that flooding is getting worse, with over half (53%) of adults affected by floods confirming that they have been subjected to floods on more than one occasion.

Over a tenth (11%) said they’ve been affected by floods three times and just less than a tenth (7%) confirmed this has been the case on more than four occasions.

Further revealing how a concern of flooding can impact on a person’s life, a fifth (18%) of UK adults affected by floods say they worry about the possibility of flooding every time it rains. A fifth (19%) said they frequently worry about floods.

The human impact of floods:

  • 33% say they moved house as a result of flooding
  • 29% have thought about moving as a result of flooding
  • 26% had to have their carpets replaced
  • 20% said their furniture was ruined
  • 19% describe floods as devastating
  • 13% separated from their partners because of floods
  • 12% lost all of their personal possessions and photographs to floods

In light of this, Co-op Insurance has taken action and launched a series of measures in Cumbria and nationally to help to prevent and respond to floods.

Firstly, the business has launched a national community flood-watch toolkit which contains three simple measures that residents in flood risk areas can implement. Examples include ‘planting smart’, ‘encouraging regrowth’ of trees and ‘cleaning up’ areas where water gathers.

Secondly, the business is nominating two local flood charities specifically in Carlisle, one of the worst hit areas in the UK, to now benefit from the Co-op’s membership scheme.

This means that Co-op’s members in Carlisle will now be able to nominate one of these organisations as their chosen cause, which in turn will receive 1% back on every £1 spent on Co-op’s own bought products. Furthermore, the business will look to roll this out to high flood risk areas across the UK.

Earlier this year, the member owned mutual gave £9 m back to thousands of local causes across the UK something that these two flood charities can now benefit from.

Thirdly, Co-op Insurance is committed to raising funds for flood aid Cumbria and will be asking its members to choose a cause which the business, alongside its Food and Funeralcare colleagues can raise funds for.

James Hillon, Director of Products, at Co-op Insurance commented: “Our research shows that three fifths (58%) of people affected by floods believe they’re happening more frequently. We’ve seen first-hand the devastating effects that floods can have on peoples’ lives and so we want to take action and try to help to reduce the impact of flooding and support those affected.

“We commissioned this research to understand the underlying causes of flooding. I’m delighted to announce that off that back of this, we’ve enrolled flood aid causes in Carlisle into our membership scheme. And, in addition, we’re going to ask our members to vote for a cause in Cumbria, one of the areas most impacted by flooding recently which we will commit to fundraising for. Managing the impact of flooding is a major priority for our business and supports our aim to help make and keep communities safe.”

Dr George Heritage, University of Salford commented: “The speed at which floodplains have deteriorated is a cause for great concern. Given the fact that UK weather will consist of more storms in years to come, if we don’t act now to restore these floodplains, what we saw with Storm Desmond in Cumbria will be a more frequent occurrence.

“We conducted this research as we really wanted evidence to inform thinking across the industry and get to the root cause of the problem, which has impacted so many people’s lives.

“We’re so pleased to see that Co-op Insurance is acting on the findings of the research by incorporating worthy organisations into their membership scheme and helping communities in flood risk areas try to prevent floods.”

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