Natural flood management (NFM) can help to slow the flow of water through a catchment, by reducing run off and increasing the ability of catchments to hold water which can help to reduce river peak flows.
One of the big advantages of NFM options compared to traditional capital schemes is that they often provide multiple benefits for both the environment and society whilst managing flood risk at the same time. This blog explores these multiple benefits and the ways they can improve the environment we live in.
Habitat creation, biodiversity and conservation
Creating habitats such as wetlands, which are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems due to high nutrient levels and primary productivity, not only provides further flood storage capacity within the catchment, but also improves biodiversity and improves connectivity between wetlands allowing more species to move amongst habitats.
Woodland creation helps to manage flood risk by improving infiltration whilst also providing an important wildlife habitat encouraging the development of a wide range of species and increases shade and shelter beneath the tree canopy.
Many NFM measures simultaneously improve water quality whilst managing flood risk which in turn has the potential to improve in stream habitats for wildlife.
Improving water quality and reducing erosion
Improved water quality and reduced soil erosion are two benefits of NFM measures that are closely linked. For example improving soil structure through woodland creation or less intensive land management increases infiltration rates and reduces run off, this in turn reduces soil erosion and improves water quality as less soil, nutrients and chemicals are being lost in run off.
Reconnecting wetlands helps to manage high nutrient loads and reduce the amount of sediment that is suspended in the water contributing to improvements in water quality.
Coastal NFM measures can help to restore coastal sediment processes and coastal morphology. Salt marshes and mudflats help to reduce wave energy at shorelines, sand dunes act as a natural buffer for cliffs from waves, and beach nourishment restores the natural coastal defence function of beaches, all helping to reduce coastal erosion and in turn manage flood risk.
NFM can improve soil structure, reduce loss of top soil and increase soil productivity which can in turn increase agricultural productivity. Measures such as run off pathway management and offline storage areas can help with sediment capture, preventing soil erosion and loss of sediments and fertilisers into the watercourse.
Financial incentives and capital gains
The Countryside Stewardship Scheme has a range of grants for farmers and land managers who wish to adopt NFM techniques. These can be capital items or management options for example in stream structures or river bank restoration. Facilitation funds may be available in your area to assist with your application and provide a 20% uplift to your score.
Community spirit and improving green spaces
Making small adjustments to your land management or allowing unproductive land to be used for measures such as flood storage can make a difference to those in your community who are at risk of flooding further downstream, particularly if several landowners work together to implement NFM measures.
Developing green spaces using NFM measures can also have massive social benefits through providing better access to green spaces, improving the environment we live in and improving quality of life.
Wetlands and woodlands are efficient at accumulating and storing carbon and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere therefore by creating more of them you are increasing the capacity of the environment to store carbon and creating ecosystems that are more resilient to climate change. Measures that reduce surface run off and soil erosion such as contour cultivation can also reduce carbon loss from soil.
Whether your interests are biodiversity, improving water quality or reducing erosion by putting NFM measures in place you are potentially not only helping to manage flood risk but also providing more diverse ecosystems, reducing siltation and increasing the productivity of your land in turn to create a better environment for you and your community.