Natural flood management in West Somerset

Natural Flood Management (NFM) is all about using natural processes to alleviate flooding, a problem which is getting worse in low-lying Somerset.

Introduction

Over the last three years, WWT has been working around the Monksilver and Doniford stream catchments in West Somerset, to help prevent flooding using natural processes, through the Two Valleys: Slow the Flow project.

This partnership project has delivered natural flood management measures across 27 different areas. These multiple features are helping to reduce the flood risk to communities throughout West Somerset.

Rather than traditional ‘hard’ engineering (think big concrete defences), natural flood management works with the landscape to hold more water and slow its flow downstream, with the added benefit of creating wildlife habitat. We’re working with farmers, private landowners, estates, businesses, local contractors and the general public to bring back natural features which have been lost or replaced over time.

Features such as wetlands, tree planting and woody dams can hold water in the landscape, slowing run-off and the associated risk of flooding downstream.

The problem

Somerset is one county that has been particularly badly affected by flooding, due to its flat geography and heavy development of its fertile land for agricultural purposes. Many of its wetlands, which once would have absorbed and stored surplus water-flows, have been drained and channelled. The area is further threatened by the effects of climate change in the years to come, which scientists indicate will lead to even more extreme storms and rainfall. The 2013/14 floods were especially bad and led to the council drawing up a 20-year action plan to combat the floods, and it’s only a matter of time before similar weather events strike.

Physical flood barriers like concrete walls and dredging can protect homes and businesses from flooding, but the cost of building and maintaining vast flood defence schemes for every village, town and property that floods is prohibitive. Other options are urgently needed if local homes and communities are to be protected more effectively in future.

What we're doing

Throughout 2021, the project will deliver assorted NFM interventions at least 8 sites to slow the flow of water into the Doniford and Monksilver streams, bringing enhanced benefits for nature and people. Measures will include the creation of woody dams, tree planting, floodplain reconnection and offline ponds.

WWT will also share knowledge and skills within local communities to help to raise awareness and support this work in the future, through workshops and community events. This will empower the catchment’s communities to make decisions on where Natural Flood Management interventions could take place in the future, and learn more about wetlands and the wildlife in their area.

Over the next year, WWT aims to establish key action flood groups in the areas of Sampford Brett, Elworthy, Stogumber and Bicknoller and offer communities opportunities to attend workshops about natural flood management.

Key achievements

The first three years of the project (2019-2021) have been a great success, resulting in:

  • NFM solutions delivered on 27 different farms and pieces of land in private ownership with a further 8 projects in development in the area.
  • Land management advice was provided by The Farming and Wildlife Advisory group (FWAG) SW to 20 farmers in the Monksilver and Doniford steam catchment on a total of 90 fields
  • 80m of elevated hedge bank has been created at three sites.
  • 3,668 native hardwood trees were planted at 15 sites.
  • 1091m of livestock fencing has been erected at five sites
  • Twenty cross drains have been built at five sites to reduce the runoff and pollution issues detected.
  • Soil condition and flood hotspot surveys of 90 fields across 20 farms, with soil husbandry advice and mitigation recommendations.
  • To help illustrate how this works, we’ve created an infographic showing the transformed landscape and various interventions.

Extended thanks to all the partners, individuals, landowners, contractors and communities who continue to help make these natural flood management projects a success.

Get in touch

Please contact Bryony Wilde on bryony.wilde@wwt.org.uk, if you’d like to know more about this year’s natural flood management projects.

Please contact Hannah Bailey on hannah.bailey@wwt.org.uk, if you’d like to get involved in events and volunteering.

Partners and funding

This project is being funded by The Green Recovery Challenge Fund (GRCF) until March 2022. The GRCF is funded by Defra and is being delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England and the Environment Agency.

People

Hannah Bailey

Anne Harrison

Tim McGrath

Hannah Robson

Rob Shore

Bryony Wilde