Thames Catchment NFM Advice

WWT is working with local authorities and other stakeholders in the Thames region providing expert advice on natural flood management (NFM) techniques and supporting work to put them into practice.

We have successful delivered a wide range of natural flood management (NFM) projects in recent years and WWT is now using the expertise and skills learnt from this work to support others looking to find NFM solutions.

NFM works with nature to reduce flood risks by storing and slowing the flow of water through the landscape. The habitats created boost local biodiversity, help clean water, reduce impacts of drought and can provide places for local people to connect to nature and promote wellbeing.

£1.5 million of funding has been allocated by the Thames Regional Flooding and Coastal Committee (RFCC) to support NFM projects in the Thames catchment because NFM is a proven, sustainable, long-term solution for flood prevention, with huge additional benefits in promoting greater climate resilience and biodiversity.

WWT has been appointed to encourage and support flood risk managers and other stakeholders to use more NFM. Our experts will provide advice about how to work with nature to reduce flood risks, whilst sharing best practice in NFM, providing peer-to-peer learning opportunities and helping NFM projects access funding.

The challenge

When heavy rainfall reaches fast-flowing streams and rivers too quickly, flash flooding incidents can often occur. Climate change is likely to bring more frequent and intense flooding for the UK and it’s recognised that traditional defences like concrete dams, embankments and walls are no longer going to be enough to protect us.

The Thames catchment covers over 16,200 square kilometres of land which drains into the River Thames and extends from Oxfordshire down to Hampshire and from Gloucestershire across to the Thames Estuary. It also covers all of greater London. There are approximately 1.7 million people at risk of flooding from rivers and the sea, and approximately 2.3 million people at risk of flooding from surface water in the area.

Extensive, catchment-wide river flooding in the Thames area tends to happen when heavy and prolonged rainfall occurs, and the catchment is either frozen or saturated. This usually happens between autumn and spring. Experience shows us that the River Thames is slow to rise and fall, so when flooding does occur, properties and businesses can remain flooded for days or even weeks. The estimated economic impact of a major flood is currently about £1 billion.

Climate change is potentially the most significant factor that will increase flood risk in the future and rainfall intensity is expected to increase. This in turn will cause river flow levels to increase. As sea levels rise, coastal flooding will become more frequent as higher water levels and storms will be seen more often.

By the 2050s the annual average losses from coastal and river flooding in England and Wales could rise to between £1.6 and £6.8 billion.

We need sustainable solutions. NFM measures provide landscape features that can store and slow the flow of water in periods of heavy rainfall, reducing flood risks downstream.

Examples of NFM include: woody, ‘leaky’ dams that hold back the water in smaller streams, digging pools that temporarily store heavy rainfall, restoring wooded river margins, allowing more natural meandering river channels and planting hedges across sloping agricultural land.

Learn more about NFM

What we’re doing

WWT brings considerable expertise in NFM, has a strong track record in delivering collaborative nature-based solutions and is a member the Environment Agency’s National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy Steering Group.

During this project we will:

  • Support Flood Risk Managers and other stakeholders in the Thames catchment, to develop more NFM projects and access funding for these.
  • Help develop local NFM projects in the Thames catchment, with the active involvement of community groups and environmental charities.
  • Further develop and improve accessibility for a layered mapping tool, with key flood-related information that helps identify potential locations for NFM delivery.
  • Share best practice through delivering workshops, webinars, site visits and a conference.
  • Highlight the multiple benefits of NFM to wider stakeholders. These include: biodiversity gains, cleaner water, increased resilience to climate change and opportunities for local people to enhance their nature connection and boost their wellbeing.

What we hope to achieve:

WWT’s ambition for this project is to help as many stakeholders as possible along the catchment adopt NFM as a strategy for flood prevention. Each flood risk area will adopt different strategies and interventions showcasing how NFM can be more versatile and adaptable than traditional hard engineered flood structures.

The project will champion NFM as a workable solution to addressing flooding and also help people recognise the many wider benefits using natural flood defence can bring in terms of wildlife and wellbeing.

The overall aim is to help local authorities and other stakeholders increase the number of natural flood management schemes they are delivering as part of their local flood prevention measures. These green interventions have so many benefits for people and wildlife. Levy funding is available to deliver these measures at a local level and I’d encourage anyone interested, including local community groups, to contact me to find out more.

Corrie Grafton, WWT Thames Catchment NFM Advisor

Webinars - Discover more about NFM

Watch our webinars to hear from experts about best practice for delivering NFM in your area, the wider benefits it brings and signposting for funding opportunities. We’ll be doing a series of talks across the project which you can access here.

If you’re looking to learn more about NFM and perspectives on research, delivery and funding opportunities, watch these recordings from The Future of Natural Flood Management in the Thames Catchment conference, held on 11 September 2023.

Watch now

Developing an NFM project: from design to on the ground delivery

NFM opportunity mapping

NFM Multiple Benefits

Get in touch

If you have any questions or enquiries about this project please contact the Thames Catchment NFM Advisor, Corrie Grafton.

Follow the project's LinkedIn page for updates, information and learning opportunities in support of NFM in the Thames catchment.


Corrie Grafton

Tom Hayek

Partners and funding

This project is funded by the Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee (Thames RFCC)