Natural England - National Nature Reserves helping to ease flooding pressure

National Nature Reserves helping to ease flooding pressure

14 December 2012

After high levels of rainfall and widespread flooding across the country recently, two of our National Nature Reserves are showing how nature can help to ease the pressure.

nnr flooding feature large image
Hay making at Wheldrake Ings, Lower Derwent Valley © Peter Roworth / Natural England

In the Somerset Levels – which have experienced extreme rainfall and flooding over the last fortnight – Southlake Moor (part of which is a National Nature Reserve) is helping manage local flooding. 

Thanks to Defra-funded investment by the Parrett Internal Drainage Boardexternal link and the Environment Agency, Southlake Moor is once again being deliberately flooded each winter with excess flood flow from the River Parrett. It is currently full and storing over one million cubic metres of flood water.

Philip Brewin, from the Parrett Internal Drainage Board, said: “Recent improvements to the water management system for Southlake Moor allow excess floodwater to be stored safely on the Moor.  This helps protect other parts of the River Parrett floodplain, where houses and roads are at risk, by allowing priority to be given to draining floodwater from these more sensitive areas.”

James Diamond, Natural England Area Manager, added: “Recent flooding on the Somerset Levels has had a terrible impact on people’s lives and property.  Southlake Moor is a good example of working with nature to help ease some of the pressure on those coping with major flood events.”

This deliberate flooding of the Moor also benefits over-wintering birds. “Wetlands are vital for wildlife and can play a key role in managing floodwater.” said Simon Clarke, Senior Reserve Manager of Natural England’s Somerset NNRs. Bird numbers often peak in January when over 4,000 wigeon, teal and lapwing can be present, along with good numbers of Bewick's swan, pintail, shoveler, golden plover and gadwall.  The site is also often used by the flock of cranes released under the Great Crane Projectexternal link.”

Every year in March, Southlake Moor is cleared of floodwater and new water control structures are used to create the right conditions for traditional cattle farming.  Using funding from Natural England, a number of farmers have reinstated field gutters and ditches on Southlake.  These new features assist with water management, as well as providing valuable wetland habitat for plants, bugs and wading birds.

Spectacular views of Southlake Moor can be enjoyed from the National Trust property at Burrow Mumpexternal link, near Burrowbridge.  Visitors should seek up-to-date travel advice as a number of local roads remain flooded and impassable.

In North Yorkshire at the other end of the country, the Lower Derwent Valley NNR is a natural floodplain in the lower reaches of the River Derwent. It has flooded every winter, even being recorded in the Domesday Book as a river which “rageth and over- floweth its banks”.  The River Derwent attracts internationally important numbers of wintering waterfowl in the colder months, and nationally important populations of passage and breeding birds during the spring and summer, as well as having a host of other important wildlife features.

Ensuring good land management, such as traditional hay making and grazing of the floodplain meadows coupled with good ditch and infrastructure management for the smooth movement of water, means that during times of high river levels the Derwent’s floodwaters can fill this natural reservoir – with the added benefit of providing a home to many high Arctic visitors too. The natural floodplain also relieves flooding pressures on homes and businesses in local communities in the catchment, by absorbing the excess water.

Craig Ralston, Senior Reserve manager of the Lower Derwent Valley NNR, said: “This is a great example of valuable services the natural environment can provide. Managed wetland sites such as these NNR’s have high conservation and landscape value but can deliver real  economic benefits through the flood protection role they play.”

He continued: “People often visit a wetland NNR to enjoy vast flocks of wintering waterfowl, the colourful array of wildflowers and the ghostly sight of a hunting barn owl. We’d like visitors to continue to appreciate the beauty, with the additional knowledge that their home or business is protected from flooding because of these natural floodplains.”