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Eric McDaid at Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust shares thoughts on how nature can help prevent flooding

Like many across the county, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust was affected by the scale and speed of the recent flooding caused by storm Babet, writes Eric McDaid, of the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.

Staff and volunteers went above and beyond to ensure our facilities were safe and that our livestock, used to improve wildlife habitats through grazing, were quickly moved to safe ground. Many businesses have been affected and having to close both our centres was a blow.

As a charity with no central funding, our café’s, shops, and car parks raise vital funds needed to care for our nature reserves and to invest in our work protecting wildlife across the county.

Water vole feeding at burrow Notts WT cpt Tom Marshall
Water vole feeding at burrow Notts WT cpt Tom Marshall

We will not be fully able to assess the impact of the floods on our sites and operations until the water levels fully recede. Similarly, the full impact on wildlife is not instantly clear.

Species such as the endangered water vole will have had burrows washed away, fish may be left stranded as water subsides and nutrient rich sediment and pesticides, washed from farmland, may have a damaging impact on invertebrates and fish populations.

The huge inundations may also damage important shallow wetland habitats such as reedbed, marsh, and fen – with loss of invertebrates and small mammals, as well as impacts on the balance of plant species.

Attenborough Nature Centre was cut off by floodwater cpt John Tidmarsh
Attenborough Nature Centre was cut off by floodwater cpt John Tidmarsh

Other impacts could include damage or loss of feeding and over-wintering habitat for birds such as wader species.

Sadly, the sort of deluge brought by storm Babet wreaking havoc for people and property, seem more frequent.

Once the clear up is over, attention must surely focus on how to mitigate and adapt to reflect our changing climate.

We are calling on the Government to ensure that all future development is safe, sustainable and does not lead to increased flood risk.

The National Planning Policy Framework sets out clearly that inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding should be avoided – and where development is necessary in such areas, it must be designed to be safe and not cause increased flooding elsewhere.

Flooding could damage feeding and overwintering areas for waders such as lapwing cpt John Tidmarsh
Flooding could damage feeding and overwintering areas for waders such as lapwing cpt John Tidmarsh

The Wildlife Trusts believe that new homes and communities must be built to withstand a significantly changing climate.

It is also essential that new development incorporates sustainable urban drainage and features such as swales and rain gardens to reduce surface water flooding and provide more wildlife habitat.

In addition to building sustainable flood management into development schemes, more investment is needed in ‘Natural Flood Management’ solutions which slow the flow of water through catchments, reducing flood risk downstream.

These work alongside other flood risk management techniques to give communities the best options for dealing with flood risk.

With the tried and tested engineering approach no longer enough to protect from the risk of floods, flood risk managers are increasingly adopting a greater range of approaches to make communities more resilient.

Our landscape has been changed to make it less and less permeable through hard paving of urban areas, loss of natural habitats and compaction of intensively managed agricultural soils. As a result, our landscape is less able to capture water by holding it in soils and vegetation or allowing it to percolate through into permeable rocks below.

Idle Valley Nature Reserve
Idle Valley Nature Reserve

Water instead flows quickly overland, accumulating in rivers before overwhelming flood defences no longer fit for purpose.

It is way too expensive, financially, and environmentally, to go on constructing ever-higher defences – but there are techniques that can help hold water back and reduce the need for those defences.

Wildlife Trusts are using a range of these Natural Flood Management measures to slow down water as it flows through catchments, including creating and restoring ponds and wetlands, enhancing soils so that they can hold more water, increased tree planting to slow overland flows and aid infiltration, and constructing woody features, like leaky dams, in channels and floodplains to hold back water.

In rural areas it may be possible to set traditional flood defences such as walls and embankments further back to allow water to flow out into the floodplain.

This creates more capacity to hold water and helps prevent it rushing into high-risk built-up areas.

Given that flood waters can have a negative impact on farmland, it is vital that famers are supported and compensated if their land is used to store flood flows to protect communities downstream.

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