UK Floods – Revitalising Natural Landscapes Can Reduce Flood Risk

During his visit to moorlands in Derbyshire, England, on 19 February, Sir James Bevan, the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, said that revitalising natural landscapes can reduce flood risk.

Sir James Bevan visited the uplands in the Peak District National Park to see firsthand how the Environment Agency’s investment is supporting the Moors for the Future Partnership in reversing the effects of hundreds of years of industrial pollution and helping to reduce flood risk.

The partnership is leading a series of visits for Environment Agency staff to moorlands in Derbyshire where conservation work has transformed the peat landscape that had been damaged by more than 150 years of pollution from coal-fired factories on either side of the Pennines, and devastating wildfires.

Slowing the Flood

The work also ‘slows the flow’ of water running down from moorland into the River Derwent, which in turn reduces the flood risk and improves water quality for communities in Derbyshire and the Trent Valley.

Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency said:

“Working with the natural landscape damaged by industrialisation can reduce local flood risk, while benefiting the environment.

“The partnership approach here in the Peak District is providing evidence that surface roughness of re-vegetated bare peat slows overland water flow, which in turn reduces the risk of flooding for communities downstream.”

In the past 12 years the partnership has brought over 5 square kilometres of bare and eroding peat moorland back to life, covering the ground with a protective layer of heather cuttings and temporary grasses while native species are re-introduced. This has prevented thousands of tonnes of carbon from being washed away into water courses and reservoirs where it has to be removed before the water is used for domestic supply.

Healthy peat bogs are naturally wet but bare peat is vulnerable to drying out. In the past 12 years the partnership has built more than 10,000 dams to help hold water on the moors and trap peat sediment. It has also reintroduced sphagnum moss to 10 square kilometres of moorland. This moss was virtually wiped out by pollution dating back to the industrial revolution and is essential for the formation of new peat.

Planting New Woodlands

Sir James saw areas that have been planted with native woodlands in the steep cloughs leading down from the moors. This is part of 2.7 square kilometres of new clough woodlands – thought to be one of the largest native woodland creation schemes in the country. Working with the Forestry Commission, Natural England, Environment Agency, National Trust and RSPB, the project aims to provide benefits to biodiversity, downstream flood risk, water quality and enhance the landscape character.

Sarah Fowler, Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park, said:

“This habitat restoration covering tens of square kilometres in the Peak District National Park is replicated across the UK’s 15 National Parks. This work delivers significant services to those who live in the National Park and to the millions living in surrounding communities. Services like slowing the flow, improving water quality and storing carbon as well as bringing business innovation and engaging communities in science so together we protect these landscapes for all to enjoy”.

Near Crookstone Out Moor, Peak District. Photo: Lauchlin Wilkinson, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Near Crookstone Out Moor, Peak District. Photo: Lauchlin Wilkinson, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0