1 November 2017 14:02

Researchers from Lancaster University will tackle one of the most pressing problems to face water science in a generation.

After the devastation of the 2007 floods, the UK Government's "Pitt review" triggered initiatives designed to introduce “green”, or natural, flood mitigation measures upstream of the affected communities, rather than relying solely on downstream engineering solutions.

In some areas a range of flood mitigation measures harnessing “natural processes” - ranging from tree planting to changes in agricultural soil management - have now been incorporated into the landscape and people are increasingly asking whether these features are working.

Although a number of pilot studies are underway, little research has been undertaken to determine the broader scale impact of these measures for communities many miles downstream.

A team of Lancaster University scientists will lead one of three major new NERC-funded projects designed to find answers to this question by undertaking large scale computer modelling, supported by fieldwork and stakeholder engagement.

Working with leading flood risk consultancy, JBA Consulting, and the Rivers Trust, Lancaster will lead a £1.2 million investigation looking at natural flood mitigation measures across large catchments in Cumbria, much of which suffered devastating flooding during Storm Desmond in December 2015.

The research will cover several thousands of square kilometres of land in Cumbria including all the valleys contributing to the River Eden, the River Derwent and the River Kent. The researchers will also collaborate in investigations elsewhere in the UK.

The Lancaster University project lead, Dr Nick Chappell of the Lancaster Environment Centre, said: “This is one of the most important academic challenges for hydrological scientists in recent years. The only way to quantify the effects of many individual features at larger scales is to use computer models. But these models must also work at the local level, providing results for individual flood mitigation measures such as a single farm pond or a small area of tree planting.

“Researchers, environmental groups, the farmers using their land for interventions, and the communities at risk from flooding will need to have confidence in our experimental and modelling results. Meeting this challenge is the focus of this research project.”

The NERC programme “Understanding the Effectiveness of Natural Flood Management” has been co-designed with Defra, the Environment Agency, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales.

The Lancaster project specifically seeks to quantify the likely magnitude of nature-based flood mitigation effects across large catchments. The research is to be undertaken with local partners that include the South Cumbria Rivers Trust, United Utilities, West Cumbria Rivers Trust, Woodland Trust, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and Eden Rivers Trust. Partners with interests elsewhere in the UK are also involved and include the Environment Agency, Defra, Forestry Commission England, RSPB, Coed Cymru, Cheshire Wildlife Trust, AFBI (Northern Ireland), Rivers Agency (Northern Ireland), JBA Trust. Further key partnerships with local flood action groups, Catchment Management Groups, NFU, CLA and National Parks will be sought at the start of the project.