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Natural approach to flood management can reduce flood risk

Cairn Beck river restoration

Last Sunday, 22 September saw the celebration of World Rivers Day, a time to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s waterways.

This year’s theme is waterways in our communities and environmental charity, Eden Rivers Trust has just completed an exciting, collaborative natural flood management (NFM) project in partnership with, and funded by, the Environment Agency that aims to reduce the impact of flooding on Warwick Bridge, one of Cumbria’s communities at risk.

Upstream of Warwick Bridge, a stretch of the Cairn Beck, close to Cumwhitton, had been artificially straightened over 150 years ago. As a result, water moves more quickly through the area, potentially increasing flood risk for downstream communities.

The landowner, Alex Hampton, wanted to improve the biodiversity on his land and contacted Eden Rivers Trust, who were searching for suitable sites in this area to install natural flood management features that would help to increase Warwick Bridge’s flood resilience.

Environmental consultancy, AquaUoS, designed a solution that would work for everyone. Their designs covered a compact area of just 0.5Ha (5000m2 ) with a wide variety of NFM features that restore or mimic natural functions of the river and the surrounding landscape. These features would store water in the landscape and slow the flow of water downstream as well as creating better conditions for nature to flourish.

Local contractors, I.J and G Prudham, dug a new 200m long meandering (wiggling) river channel with room to move. By creating meanders, the water will take longer to flow downstream by making it go further. The new river channel contains gravel bars, pools and riffles – natural features that sustain river insects and fish and slow the flow of water.

Ponds with drainage channels were created to hold water temporarily during heavy rainfall, then allow the water to trickle back into the main channel over time. Ponds are also great for otters, water voles and birds.

The old, straightened channel became part of the new plan as a flood relief channel during high rainfall.

The landowner is planting native trees to intercept rainfall so that less reaches the ground and the river. Trees also provide shade, keeping the river cool and provide valuable habitat.

Jenny Garbe, Conservation Officer Eden Rivers Trust said: “The Cairn Beck river restoration project is a fantastic example of how working with natural processes and restoring channels to their original state can provide both flood mitigation benefits as well as biodiversity improvements. At only 200m in length, the river is now well connected with its floodplain, is morphologically diverse and provides great in-stream and riparian habitat’

Dave Kennedy, Environment Agency Natural Flood Management Advisor, said: “Natural flood management is an important part of our strategy in protecting communities from flood risk and we work with natural processes and use natural flood management measures where they are technically feasible and provide good value.

“It can be a cost-effective and sustainable way to manage flood risk alongside and supporting traditional engineering, while creating habitat for wildlife and helping regenerate rural and urban areas through tourism.

“We always advise people know their flood risk and prepare in advance. Check your flood risk, know what to do if flooding was expected, and be ready to respond. You can check your flood risk at https://www.gov.uk/check-if-youre-at-risk-of-flooding.”

Alex Hampton, landowner said: “Thank you very much for the efforts of Eden Rivers Trust and for making it happen. It is a great improvement and without the Trust it would not have been done. Send a big thanks to all involved.”

Cairn Beck is just one of several projects that Eden Rivers Trust is undertaking in the area that is funded by the Environment Agency as part of the Defra NFM programme which is an important part of the government’s strategy to protect communities from flood risk. This programme was launched following Storm Desmond to explore alternative and sustainable solutions upstream to reduce flood risk to communities, to be used alongside traditional engineering.

Find out more about the Cairn Beck project by visiting www.edenriverstrust.org.uk

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