Working with Nature to reduce flooding

Frank Getty - Canoeists check out buildings in flooded York - via

Frank Getty - Canoeists check out buildings in flooded York - via

Last months flooding is reported to have cost the country over £5 billion. Coming in the wake of continual spending cuts by two consecutive governments upon flood defense schemes this is hardly surprising. 

What is surprising however is that the town of Pickering in North Yorkshire managed to avoid the worst of these events by developing a flood defense scheme defying perhaps the conventional logic.

I think a relatively well founded stereotype of British culture is that we are or like to believe we are, creatures of action. When things go wrong we want to see direct and overt solutions "Get stuck in...".

So in line with this rhetoric, in 2007 when Pickering was subjected to £7 million worth of damages during a particularly harsh flooding period; a plan was born to install a £20 million concrete wall through the town center. The logic of this can only be described as simple... a very simple and obvious solution to mother nature.

Without the gift of hindsight i think it was probably fortunate this plan was scrapped. And subsequently, with help from top academic institutions around the country, developed a defence plan based upon the lessons of the past.

Traditionally water trickled down the water table out to sea in a much slower fashion. The advent of drainage ditches is just one example of an age old logic that we should get water out to sea 'as fast as possible' for example to prevent flooding, and to improve agricultural capacity.

In attempt to replicate the patterns of the past 167 "leaky dams" were created in the becks above the town. The constructions were made from locally sourced logs, branches and twigs. Additionally 187 accompanying structured made with bales of heather were placed in the smaller drains and gullies. 

Wooded areas supposedly drain water 60 times faster than grassland, so they also planted 29 hectares of woodland. And a large bund was built to store floodwater and release it slowly through a culvert.

Perhaps unsurprisingly this project was an enormous success and as local chairman Mike Potter puts it;

"While there was devastation all over northern England, our newly completed defences worked a treat and our community got on with life as normal.”

This project cost approximately £2 million to complete, a mere fraction of the originally proposed defenses amounting to £20 million. However these "leaky dams" they have built simply remind me of a construction which would have once been found in many of our local rivers, ponds and lakes across the United Kingdom. 

Beaver dams and lodges in waterways are known to provide  a many number of ecosystem services including the regulation of stream flows and flood aleviation.

Click here to read more about how beavers can prevent flooding

The core cost of the Scottish Beaver trial was reported at approximately £2 million for seven years including the initial transportation of Beavers from Norway, veterinary fees and subsequent monitoring programs.

Click here to read more about the Scottish beaver trial

£2 million for the re-establishment of a native species which will work through every season, rain or shine and for as many years and generations it is allowed; to help alleviate flooding in the United Kingdom, sounds like a pretty good deal to me.