Fairburn Ings RSPB reserve, view across flooded Ing from drowned lane towards coal tip, May 2000

Sustainable flood management

Flooding is already a serious issue in parts of the UK and is likely to become worse as our climate changes.

Sustainable flood management

Winters are predicted to become wetter, with increases in the frequency and intensity of rainfall. Floods which are currently considered extreme will become more common in the future.

We need to adapt to these changes and introduce a new, sustainable approach to flood management that works with nature rather than against it.

Managing floods

Traditional approaches to flood defence have seen millions of pounds spent on reactive schemes that have resulted in floodwalls, embankments and large concrete culverts constructed to protect vulnerable homes. These often move water downstream faster, thus creating flood problems elsewhere.

However, there are more sustainable solutions to flood defence. River floodplains and coastal saltmarshes operate as natural flood defences by holding water during times of peak flow and releasing it slowly, thus reducing the impact of floods on built-up areas.

Coastal saltmarshes also absorb some of the devastating impacts of storms on coastal areas, forming a natural line of defence for coastal settlements. Conserving and restoring these habitats can therefore contribute to flood mitigation.

Flood management legislation

The EU Floods Directive came into force in 2007, and has subsequently been transposed into the Flood & Water Management Act in England and Wales, the Water Environment (Floods Directive) Regulations in Northern Ireland and the Flood Risk Management Act in Scotland. 

We will continue to advocate that natural and sustainable approaches to flood risk management are adopted in the implementation of this legislation to have positive benefits for people and wildlife.

Cattle grazing on floodplain grassland, Greylake RSPB reserve, Somerset Levels


With climate change comes an increased risk of flooding. Natural flood management provides cost-effective and sustainable means of adapting to climate change impacts. PDF, 386Kb.

Natural flood management