The role of Natural Flood Management in mitigating flood risk 

Energy & Climate Change, Flooding, Management & Regulation, Natural Environment

Flooding can have devastating impacts and, with Met Office climate change predictions of wetter winters and more extreme summer rainfall, the risk of flooding in the UK is increasing. A range of approaches and measures are necessary to manage flood risk, including avoiding development of high-risk areas, property flood resilience, hard engineered flood defences and natural flood management (NFM).

Our new policy position statement explores the case for NFM, the potential barriers for implementation, and the steps needed to deliver widescale benefits.

Natural flood management measures, also known as ‘working with natural processes’, increase infiltration of water into the ground and slow and store water entering water courses, reducing the peak flows that cause flooding. Interventions include upland peat restoration and woodland creation, soil aeration, leaky barriers and dams, offline storage ponds and channel restoration.

These interventions can deliver a wide range of benefits, from the primary intention of water infiltration and attenuation, to improved water quality, increased habitat diversity and species richness, and carbon sequestration.NFM is also typically cheaper to deliver than hard-engineered measures, is low in embodied carbon, provides environmental co-benefits and contributes to climate adaptation.

But there are also weaknesses that need to be managed; the main one being that there is less certainty in their effectiveness and performance than hard engineering. And in contrast to large traditional engineering solutions, NFM approaches often require multiple interventions distributed throughout a catchment to achieve the desired level of performance downstream.

NFM techniques should be deployed wherever appropriate, and alongside hard engineering solutions where needed, to deliver flood resilience alongside environmental co-benefits which help to address the climate and ecological emergencies.

Read our policy position statement on NFM here.

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