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Natural Flood Management

A nature-based approach to managing water will control the flow and peaks and reduce the risk of flooding at a time when rainfall is predicted to rise as a consequence of climate change.

Natural flood management (NFM), uses low-carbon, nature-based solutions to manage the water in a local environment, controlling the peaks and minimising the risk of flooding.

The increased threat of flood risk as a consequence of climatic change and human-made interventions to the natural landscape, are well documented. Fathom, a global leader in water risk intelligence, predict that by 2050 over 1.3 million properties in the UK will be at substantial risk of flooding, an increase of about 250,000 from current levels in the 2020s.

We’re at the forefront of leading a change in thinking on water management. Working with local authorities, developers and landowners, we’re using natural solutions as part of natural flood management.

Success lies in slowing the rate at which water runs off the landscape into rivers, reducing the impact on communities downstream. It’s about techniques that reduce the peaks of both rainfall and fluvial flow, accepting longer periods of higher river levels but keeping the overall peaks down.

This approach to sustainable land management, both upstream and downstream, is supported by a range of funding schemes from Defra and the Environment Agency.

Nature-based solutions, including woodland planting, river restoration, inland storage ponds and wetlands, and filter strips in urban environments, also create a better natural environment for communities to enjoy and represent a low-carbon solution. Within the Green Infrastructure Framework, launched by Natural England in 2023, it’s these types of green and blue spaces which are highlighted for building resilience to climate change and improving people’s wellbeing.

Features and benefits of our service include:

  • Strategic review of catchment areas to identify opportunities for natural interventions.
  • Design and costing of natural flood management techniques.
  • Advice and support on business cases to access government funding programmes.
  • GIS-led online data management platforms to view current and future risks to property portfolios.
  • Design solutions to improve the public realm and wellbeing.

What you can expect from our water management specialists

We take a strategic assessment of the wider catchment area.

Our strategy for water management begins by understanding the water source upstream, the causes for rapid flow, the opportunities for natural interventions to slow the water’s flow rate, and the stakeholders – landowners – who need to support a plan for change.

We use a combination of techniques to reflect different parts of the terrain and the journey of water from upstream to downstream. The techniques are designed to slow the flow of water and level out the peaks.

They can be deployed alongside traditional ‘hard’ defences, and will offer a more sustainable, long-term solution to simply increasing the height of an embankment or wall.

Solutions include:

  • Leaky woody dams and boulders, from natural materials, designed to reduce the force of water and encourage the flow of water onto floodplains or flood storage areas.
  • Upstream woodland planting which intercepts rainfall before it hits the ground and minimises surface water runoff.
  • Moorland restoration, which including the use of peat can slow the flow of water over the land.
  • Inland storage ponds and wetlands, both temporary and long-term adding to the aesthetic value of an area.
  • Sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDS), for example swales, wetlands in urban areas, green roofs, permeable pavements, detention ponds and filter strips.

These techniques all improve our natural habitats, enhance biodiversity, create places for communities to enjoy nature and visually improve both urban and countryside settings.

We encourage restoring river channels to more natural routes to slow the flow of water and allow rivers to reconnect to their floodplains and increase floodwater storage upstream.

Defra, Natural England and governmental policy are all encouraging river restoration to improve habitats and reconnect to nature. It’s an important part of the Green Infrastructure Framework launched by Natural England in 2023.

The trend to straighten rivers or build embankments to increase the land available for agriculture has meant rivers have been unable to flood adjacent floodplains and instead have flowed quickly downstream to built environments.

Through a range of nature-based techniques to restore rivers to their natural routes, the flow of water can be slowed and controlled.

In collaboration with our climate risk and sustainability specialists, we model climatic trends to predict the risks to real estate both now and in the future.

It’s an approach that enables estate managers and investors in real estate portfolios to understand the long term risks to their assets from climatic change. It means they can adapt to be resilient, ensure business continuity, minimise insurance liabilities, and protect the wellbeing of users.

Specifically, from a water risk perspective, we base our findings on rainfall patterns, water courses, and site levels. We use GIS and develop interactive online platforms for clients to view the likely risks and impacts, and create risk registers.

Our nature-based, natural flood management solutions can be applied to the identified risks.

We support a range of stakeholders with the business case to secure funding to invest in natural flood management and ultimately support their projects.

The government is fully committed to supporting low-carbon interventions that support and encourage biodiversity. By way of example, the expectation is for SuDS to become a requirement for new developments in England from 2024 as part of planning policy to manage surface water drainage.

As a consequence, landowners and developers can access grants and funding from programmes such as the Countryside Stewardship scheme, the Rewilding Innovation Fund and the Environment Agency backed Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management project.

Got a project in mind?
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