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Natural flood management

Nature and people to benefit from a £2.6m environmental project project in West Yorkshire
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
GIbson Mill, Hardcastle Crags

Work has started on a two-year, £2.6m natural flood management project in West Yorkshire, to help protect homes and nurture wildlife devastated by the Boxing Day floods of 2015.

The of the project, led by the National Trust, is to reduce the risk of flooding to over 3,000 homes and businesses in Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, Marsden and surrounding areas.

Taking learnings from the conservation charity’s success with a similar scheme at the Holnicote Estate in Somerset, this will be one of the biggest investments of its kind to date in England.

Restoring peat bogs

The work at Hardcastle Crags and Wessenden Valley, part of Marsden Moor (both cared for by the National Trust), and Gorpley Reservoir (looked after by Yorkshire Water and the Woodland Trust) will use a combination of natural interventions to slow the flow of water along the Colne and Calder river catchments.

The project has received £1.3m growth deal funding from the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and £1.3m either in funds or in-kind support from other partners (including The Forestry Commission, Moors For The Future partnership, Environment Agency, Woodland Trust, Yorkshire Water, Calderdale Council and other community groups).

Plans include the planting of 151 hectares of new woodland at Gorpley Reservoir and in the Wessenden Valley, the restoration of 85 hectares of peat bogs, heath and Molinia (moor grass) and the construction of over 650 ‘leaky dams’.

Over 3,000 metres of fascines (bundles of brushwood) will also be dug in to help stabilise stream banks and slopes, and new areas of land will be fenced for sustainable grazing by sheep and cattle.

All partners have been working together as part of the White Rose Forest Partnership. New woodlands planted will help grow the White Rose Forest, part of the new Northern Forest.

Benefits for wildlife

Craig Best, countryside manager for the National Trust in West Yorkshire, said that traditional flood alleviation schemes have focused primarily on delivering hard infrastructures such as flood defence walls to protect the places where people live.

‘However, there is increasing recognition of the role natural flood management can play to reduce the impacts of flooding on communities, while delivering key benefits for the natural environment’, he said.

‘Although natural techniques are not considered to be the single solution to reducing flood risk they are increasingly recognised as playing a significant role alongside more traditional approaches’, Craig added. ‘The combination of work we’re planning here of both new habitat creation and landscape restoration will, once things have become established, help absorb significant amounts of water to help slow the flow of water heading downstream towards towns and villages when we experience heavy rain.’

The project will create areas where bog plants such as hare’s tail cottongrass and sphagnum can thrive. Upland birds such as curlew and twite are also expected to benefit.

Extreme weather

The project is the second-largest undertaken by the conservation charity after the success of a similar project on the Holnicote Estate in Somerset, where similar interventions have eased flood risk downstream at the villages of Allerford, West Lynch and Bossington.

The ambitious project also marks the start of a joint, long-term partnership between the National Trust and Yorkshire Water.

‘As a major land owner and conservation charity we have a huge part to play. We are seeing more extreme weather across the UK, which is what we expect to see as a result of climate change, and have to come to terms with these challenges.

‘When it comes to reducing the risk of flooding, we have to think holistically and look at how we slow the water down from source to sea. If we get the pieces of the jigsaw right by intervening and managing water together, we can make a difference. By trying to ‘slow, store and filter’ water before it ends up in the main rivers we can help reduce flood risk, improve water quality and potentially make water available during dry periods.’

Director of the National Trust in the north says

The work will be monitored by the University of Leeds so that key learnings can be taken forward to other projects, including the National Trust’s Riverlands programme, currently in development, which will bring communities and organisations together to protect local waters, habitats and wildlife across England and Wales.

Click here for more about the impact of weather on British wildlife.

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