The village of Belford in Northumberland, UK, with a population of about one thousand, had a long history of flooding from the Belford Burn, disrupting its life on at least five occasions in the four years before 2007. The catchment to Belford is 10km2 and ranges from upland pasture to lowland arable farmland.
As funding for a traditional flood defence scheme could not be justified, the Northumbria Regional Flood Defence Committee allocated funding to implement a catchment management scheme to construct dozens of flow intervention structures in the catchment upstream of the town. This was the Belford Catchment Solutions Project – a partnership project between the Environment Agency, Newcastle University and Local Landowners.
26 interventions that trap sediment, improve water quality, create new ecological zones and slow the flow of water were trialled and built which successfully held water upstream from Belford during the next flood.
The principle was INTERCEPT, STORE, SLOW, FILTER
The bunds or interventions created online ponds (on the course of the river), offline ponds (adjacent to the river). These ponds work by storing water when the river is high and releasing it slowly back to the river after the peak has passed. Bunds were also built across the overland flow routes. These intercept fast flow pathways of flood water, preventing run-off from reaching a water course too quickly. Large woody debris and other features were also installed which slow the flood peak and divert it onto the floodplain.
‘Flooding has stopped completely in Belford’ (local resident/2014)
Outcomes of applying this strategy of collaborative water management:
- Reduced flood risk downstream
- Reduced levels of pollution
- Habitat creation
- Increased biodiversity
- Increased farm productivity
Traditional flood defence govt estimate for Belford: £2.5 million
Actual Cost of Belford Project: Approx. £200,000
The method addressed two major problems:
- It brought the local landowners, the council, the environment agency, local residents and scientists together to arrive at a long term, really effective solution to the flooding.
- It arrested the run-off of the best soil of the area, improving its ecology and fertility.
Catchment management by building interventions at strategic places in the landscape to retain water upstream has been implemented successfully in other places too eg. in Pickering/Yorkshire. It is an effective, small-scale, sustainable and community –level approach for many other flood risk areas, including the Somerset levels.
This approach could help reduce flood risk in the riparian areas of the UK at a fraction of the cost, time and effort.
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