UK farmers are adopting natural flood management techniques to protect their land and foster biodiversity.
In the UK, farmers like James Robinson and Samantha Kenyon are turning to natural flood management (NFM) techniques as a solution to increasingly frequent floods. These methods, focusing on ecological restoration and landscape resilience, represent a departure from traditional flood management practices.
James Robinson, a Lake District farmer, has altered the landscape of his farm to combat flooding. By allowing the becks (streams) on his farm to follow a more natural course and fostering the growth of vegetation along their banks, Robinson has enhanced the farm's flood resilience. This approach, known as 'beck wiggling', involves reconfiguring waterways into their original meandering paths and creating shallow pools to increase water retention. Additionally, Robinson has fenced off areas from grazing to encourage forest regeneration and planted trees to improve soil quality and provide shade for cattle, anticipating hotter temperatures in the future.
Samantha Kenyon, farming in the lowlands of Wales, faces similar challenges. After realizing that external assistance was unlikely, she initiated her own flood management efforts. Her approach includes coppicing willow trees and embedding them in riverbanks to strengthen them and promote new growth. This method has not only stabilized the soil but also brought lush greenery back to the riverbanks.
These NFM practices are gaining traction across the UK, supported by the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) and various government environmental schemes. NFM strategies like river restoration, the creation of floodplains, and tree planting near waterways are being increasingly adopted. They aim to return rivers to their natural states, absorb excess moisture, and mitigate flood risks.
Despite the growing popularity of NFM, research in this area is still emerging. Studies, such as those by the University of Exeter, highlight the need for an established evidence base to support NFM's efficacy in flood risk management. The British Geological Survey also underscores the importance of understanding water dynamics in catchments for predicting the impacts of these methods on floods, droughts, biodiversity, and agricultural productivity.
The benefits of NFM extend beyond flood management, according to The Guardian. Restoring wetlands, for example, has shown significant carbon sequestration benefits. However, the UK faces considerable economic losses due to flooding, with costs exceeding £1 billion annually. Consequently, NFM is seen as a cost-efficient solution with improved infrastructure benefits, attracting attention from the European Environment Agency following devastating floods in various European countries.
Robinson's efforts have already shown promising results, attracting diverse wildlife to his farm, including various bird species and even otters. This resurgence of wildlife, alongside the tangible benefits in flood mitigation, exemplifies the potential of NFM in transforming agricultural practices and fostering a more harmonious relationship with nature.
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