UK Tests Six Ways to Reduce Flooding, Coastal Erosion

LONDON, UK, January 9, 2007 (ENS) - The role that farmlands and trees can play in reducing the risk of flooding brought on by climate change will be explored in a new government funded study aimed at pushing the boundaries of policy on flooding and coastal erosion.

"We can't hide from the consequences of climate change," said Minister for Climate Change and Environment Ian Pearson, announcing funding for six pilot projects on Thursday. "When we consider the possibility of higher sea levels and storms of greater intensity we have to start thinking differently about how to deal with flooding and coastal erosion.

"This means adapting to the consequences now and developing greater resilience," he said.


British Minister for Climate Change and Environment Ian Pearson (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
The six pilot projects are funded by the Department for Environment, Food And Rural Affairs, Defra, as part of the government's Making Space for Water program. This cross-government strategy, launched in 2005, takes a long-term approach to flood and coastal erosion risk management.

The strategy aims to manage risks through a range of approaches, which reflect national and local priorities, and which combine a reduction in the threat to people and their property with the delivery of the greatest environmental, social and economic benefit.

Pearson said £1.5m (US$2.9 million) will be made available over the next three years to fund the six pilot projects. The pilots are funded from the Innovation Fund launched in November 2005.

"Government has spent some £4 billion (US$7.76 billion) since 1996/1997 managing the risk of flooding and coastal erosion faced by communities across England," said Pearson. "But climate change will ratchet up the threats faced by communities, which is why we need to investigate new and different responses to dealing with flooding and coastal erosion.

The six pilot studies are:

  1. A Collaborative Approach to Sustainable Coastal Land Management. A project of the National Farmers Union, this pilot aims to promote and enable change in land management on the Essex coast by providing groups of landowners with the tools they need to adapt to sustainable coastal management policies and climate change.

    Strategic planning on the coastline does not take account of the fragmented pattern of coastal land ownership. Geographical isolation makes it difficult for individual landowners to engage with wider policy issues, and they are rarely in a position to make real progress on their own.

    This project will review existing studies into the future flood management of the Essex coast, and identify coastal strips or management units quick wins are possible.

    A project officer will then identify groups of land managers in those cells and support them as they explore future options. Solutions will be based on local need and circumstances, and are expected to include opportunities for environmental enhancement such as saltmarsh creation, income streams from alternative salt-tolerant crops, farm diversification and opportunities for access and recreation.

    The National Farmers Union, NFU, is taking a proactive approach to climate change.

    The NFU, Forum for the Future, the Country Land and Business Association and the Applied Research Forum have launched a new website to communicate climate change to farmers, growers and landowners across the UK to promote understanding and change from within the industry.

    The website was launched at the Oxford Farming Conference last week, as part of a one year project funded by Defra’s Climate Challenge Fund under the umbrella title of "Tomorrow’s climate, today’s challenge." understanding and change from within the industry.


    Weather damage to a grain crop on a British farm (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy FreeFoto)
    NFU President Peter Kendall said at the launch, "Farmers have long been aware of changing weather conditions and how this impacts their livelihoods. Climate change presents farmers with many new opportunities and this project will encourage them to understand how to mitigate these impacts." understanding and change from within the industry.

    Jonathon Porritt, founder and director of Forum for the Future said, “Farming contributes seven percent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions and as a result of these emissions, farmers are on the front line of adapting to the impacts of climate change." understanding and change from within the industry.

    “Climate change offers one of the greatest opportunities of the 21st century," said Porritt. "Adapting to and mitigating climate change is not just an environmental issue – it’s an economic opportunity."

  2. Farming Floodplains for the Future. This pilot to be conducted by the Staffordshire Washland Partnership aims to enhance land management practices in the Staffordshire Washlands catchment of the Rivers Trent, Sow and Penk.

    It will encourage economically and environmentally sustainable land use in floodplains that addresses flood risk management through working with the local Sow and Penk Drainage Board.

    The project seeks to link sustainable land management of the floodplain with the local economy, through farm diversification and ecotourism, as well as maintaining habitats and enhancing the landscape.

  3. Restoring Floodplain Woodland for Flood Alleviation. To be conducted by Forest Research, this pilot aims to facilitate the establishment of around 15 hectares of floodplain woodland in the River Laver catchment in North Yorkshire to demonstrate the benefits of this option for flood alleviation.

    Research work to date suggests that the greater hydraulic roughness provided by floodplain woodland could make a contribution to downstream flood alleviation.

    The main outcome from this project will be a demonstration of whether floodplain woodland can make a significant contribution to reducing flood risk. A positive result could also provide socio-economic benefits by helping to tackle the increasing threat of flooding faced by many local communities due to climate change, especially where it is not cost effective to construct engineered defenses.

  4. Slapton Coastal Zone Adaptation Plan. Slapton is a coastal village in Devon, between Kingsbridge and Dartmouth. During 2001 storms, the gravel barrier beach at Slapton was severely eroded. The main coast road, which runs along the barrier beach and links local towns, was damaged.


    The beach at Slapton, Devon is at risk of erosion. (Photo credit unknown)
    To be conducted by the South Hams District Council on behalf of the Slapton Line Partnership, this pilot project will produce a plan in liaison with local communities for adapting in response to coastal erosion which will affect transport links, environmental and heritage assets and the local economy.

    Slapton Sands is a five kilometer (three mile) long shingle beach. Behind the beach is Slapton Ley nature reserve, with the largest natural freshwater lake in the southwest of England. The area has several environmental and heritage conservation designations and is a popular visitor destination. The area is also a vital transport link, with the main A379 road running along the beach-head linking the towns of Dartmouth and Kingsbridge.

    Slapton Sands is very vulnerable to coastal erosion, and the main coastal A-road was closed for several months in 2001 following the storms.

    Defra says recent studies have confirmed that it is not feasible on economic or environmental grounds to defend the road and beachhead from future erosion by engineered intervention. With some limited realignment, the road may survive for at least 30 years, although a major storm could happen at any time. This project will work with the local community to produce a long-term adaptation program to manage the process of responding to coastal change creatively and positively.

  5. LiFE: Long-term Initiatives for Flood risk Environments. To be conducted by the Building Research Establishment and Barker And Coutts Architects, this pilot will produce guidance on planning and designing sustainable housing and communities in flood plain areas.

    This pilot aims to demonstrate the benefits of integrating a number of environmental approaches within developments - sustainability, natural flood mitigation, zero carbon/zero waste in such a way the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The long-term ambition of the project is to see these ideas implemented across the country, but Defra will not be funding the later stages of this project.

  6. Development of an Educational Tool for Sustainable Shoreline Management. To be carried out by the Halcrow Group Ltd, this pilot is intended to develop effective communication with stakeholders and improve understanding of some of the difficult long term issues to be addressed in achieving sustainable coastal management.

    This project seeks to develop an educational computer based visualization tool, which will allow the user to make various decisions about the management of their local shoreline and then see the consequences on screen.

    As part of the development of Shoreline Management Plans and coastal defense strategy plans, it has become apparent that many people's expectations regarding long-term coastal defense policies are misguided, says Defra.

    "There is commonly a call to continue to 'hold the existing defense line,' but this is often based on a perception that the shoreline will continue to look exactly as it does now, even after 100 years or more. In many, if not most, instances, this perception is simply incorrect," the agency says.

    This computer tool will help to communicate the nature of the likely future changes and the direct impacts that these will have upon coastal communities to planners, local policy makers and the public in a way they can easily understand. "This will facilitate the acceptance and uptake of more sustainable management policies such as managed realignment," Defra says.

"The pilot projects I have announced today are testing out new and innovative approaches to deal with flooding and coastal erosion," said Minister Pearson. "These pilots will see whether we can push the boundaries of policy and test the potential of whether these innovative ideas can form part of our mainstream policy and delivery."