4 things landowners can do to support flood defence
By Ross Cheeseright

4 things landowners can do to support flood defence

Environmental flood prevention

As we move towards winter and through the autumn months, we arrive at the ‘flooding season’ in the UK. Flood risk is typically at its highest from November through to February. In addition, climate change reports suggest that we will have much more harsh weather conditions and increased flood risk.

In this post we talk about 4 environmentally friendly approaches to support flood defences.

So, grab yourself a coffee and let’s get into it.

1. Plant some trees

Trees are amazing. They do so much for the environment – they help to capture carbon, they provide habitats for a multitude of animals and wildlife, they offer natural beauty and splendour, and they can help provide flood defence.

Canopy Interception

Heavy rainfall is typically the cause of flooding in the UK. The canopy covers the trees provide don’t just help to keep you dry in the short term, but also intercept the rainfall. By intercepting the rain, the tree canopy can spread the effect of a rainstorm over a longer period.

Doing so allows some of the rainwater to evaporate back into the atmosphere from the canopy before it reaches the ground and joins the water table. According to the woodland trust; All trees act in this way, but our native broadleaf trees do it best in summer when they’re in full leaf, but trees can also be effective in winter, too!

Tree Roots

The roots of trees are also great tools for flood defence. The roots will help water penetrate deeper into the soil and at a much quicker rate. One major type of flooding is surface flooding. By planting trees, the ground can store more water and produce less surface run-off.

In rural areas where there has been removal of trees and hedges there has been increased levels of fun-off from fields which increases the risk of flooding. Planting trees (and hedges) offers much improved water infiltration rates – as much as 60 times higher than adjoining farmland.

2. Maintain ditches

These days, we are experiencing increased levels of development, more intense rainfall events and the increased risk to biodiversity from invasive species that contributes to things like bank erosion. As a result, it is now more important than ever to maintain and improve the country’s land drainage systems.

Ditch clearance and maintenance provides the following benefits:

  • Reduced risk of flooding: By draining excess surface water away before water levels reach critical levels protects people and the environment from flooding.
  • Reduced Liability for Landowners: If a flood is found to have been caused a landowner neglecting their riparian responsibilities, they may be liable for compensating damage that occurs.

Predictions for climate change indicate that we will have much more severe weather conditions in the UK and that the risk of flooding will continue to increase. Keeping ditches clear and considering the implementation of ditches when landscaping will be top considerations for rural areas going forward.

Ditches can be maintained directly by the landowners, or you can hire a suitable contractor who has the equipment and experience to carry out maintenance of the ditches in your property.

By creating ditches around the UK to protect against flooding, we also accidentally created some excellent habitats for wildlife. In a time when habitat destruction is one of the leading threats to biodiversity, being able to create habitats is a brilliant side-effect to have.

One such animal benefitting from the creation of ditches is the water vole. Once a common sight in the UK (immortalised by ‘Ratty’ in the Wind in the Willoe’s), water voles have declined by 90% over the last 30 years – primarily due to habitat loss – and it is now a protected species.

Water Voles (and others) are making a home of ditches and with careful maintenance by environmentally conscious landowners or contractors and using a ditch rotation method, it’s possible to help these species thrive.


3. Support Biodiversity

Throughout the UK there are lots of invasive species of plant taking root. These plants tend to out-compete native wildlife and push out other species. This results in them taking over large areas of land all for themselves. Invasive species are the second largest threat to biodiversity after habitat loss.

But what does this have to do with flood defence?

Along riverbeds, this happens with several species such as the ‘Himalayan balsam’. Which grow rapidly, kill off all the native plants and then when winter comes, they die back. This leaves large areas of riverbank exposed and highly susceptible to erosion.

Bank erosion is a natural part of a river system. It takes silt and deposits it and rivers naturally ebb and flow throughout their lifetimes. However, when riverbanks deteriorate rapidly due to invasive species (or other external factors) it creates a detrimental effect on river wildlife and it makes rivers more susceptible to flooding.

Banks break quicker when they are eroded and when the water levels rise, and lower-level banks are quick to overflow. By maintaining a healthy balance of native species in these areas, riverbanks are much more secure, stable and less prone to excess erosion.

Specialist operators can either mechanically remove infestations of non-native invasive species, or they can apply special herbicides that are designed to target these weeds directly without causing an impact on the environment around them.

4. Plant wildflowers

This is a bit of a flipside to dealing with invasive species. Wildflowers are becoming more and more popular with farms, estates and local authorities. Wildflowers offer an environmentally friendly and cost-effective alternative to grass and other similar solutions that require a lot of maintenance and upkeep.

Wildflowers require a lot less maintenance than traditional grass solutions and they don’t need to be mowed or maintained as often. This helps to cut down on costs as well as carbon emissions, making them a great option for areas such as verges.

Perennial wildflowers are a great option for planting on sloped areas, verges and near banks because they grow deep, resilient root systems and they will grow back every year helping to prevent erosion – and when they’re in bloom, they’re very easy on the eyes, too.

Wrapping it up

So, there you have it! 4 environmentally conscious efforts that you can make which will benefit you, your property and your community. If you would like help with anything that we mentioned here, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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