How nature can help protect our homes from flooding

Tuesday 10 March 2020

There is no getting away from the fact the world is in a climate and nature emergency.

The sheer scale of the challenge we face to advert mass extinction and catastrophic extreme weather can feel overwhelming.

But there is a way we can tackle both the climate and nature crises together. We can restore nature, fill our skies with birdsong once more and help people.

This is because nature habitats double up as carbon stores. They have other amazing features as well. For example, some types of habitat can improve flood defences and even water quality for nearby communities.

St Aidan’s Nature Park near Leeds, an Environment Agency washland we manage in partnership with Leeds City Council, is a great case study for how we can tackle climate change and safeguard people’s futures at the same time. It is a former open cast mine which holds up to 7.5 million cubic metres of water. To put that into context that is equivalent to 80 billion cans of fizzy pop. Last month it has been full of flood water coming into the site off River Aire.

Everyday local people walk their dogs, ride their bikes and even horse ride through the stunning nature reserve. It’s a special place for wildlife too. During the winter months the site is great for waders including red-listed species like lapwing and curlew, and in the summer there are bitterns – Britain’s loudest bird. In 1997 there were just 11 booming male bitterns left but last year the RSPB reported a record-breaking 100 booming bitterns across our reserves and 200 UK wide.

Richard Barnard, area manager for Yorkshire and the Humber said: “We’re in a climate crisis now, so we’re going to have more and more of these intense storm events like we’ve had two of in recent weeks. There’s going to be more of those, that’s simply a fact.

“There are other features of flood risk management strategy that will appear like concrete walls and flood banks and they play a role but so do sites like these.

“At the end of the day the water will end up going somewhere. If we had concrete walls it might protect the communities round here but it would then funnel it down to communities further down the river system or Humber estuary so it’s really important to have sites like this as part of the mix when considering how to protect people’s homes and businesses.”

If you’re interested in taking action to help safeguard nature for future generations it’s easy to sign up to become a ‘campaigns champion’. We’ll give you guidance and support to fight for the issues you care about, plus lots of opportunities to take action online and in your community.

Just three miles down the road Fairburn Ings, an RSPB reserve which also helps protect locals from flooding, boasts kingfishers, grey heron, bitterns, snipe, curlew and willow tits. Recently we’ve had little egrets, spoonbills and Cetti’s warbler.

These reserves are just two examples of partnership work the RSPB is involved in to protect communities from flooding and help wildlife. Led by the Environment Agency in partnership with the RSPB, Medmerry is the largest managed realignment of the open coast ever undertaken in the UK (constructed 2011-2013). Flooding had long posed a threat to the West Sussex towns Pagham and Selsey but the new sea defences not only protect people’s homes but also created a natural fishery for the local fishing fleet, allowed caravan parks to extend their season and attracted amazing wildlife such as avocets. Wallasea Island in Essex is thought to be the largest ‘beneficial use scheme’ in Europe, protecting local communities from rising sea levels as well as recreating an ancient wetland landscape of mudflats, saltmarsh, lagoons and pasture that store carbon and support wildlife.  We worked with together with Crossrail, the Environment Agency, Defra and Natural England to help make this happen.

How nature can help protect our homes from flooding

Nature is incredible. But did you know it can help protect homes and businesses from flooding? RSPB area manager for Yorkshire and the Humber Richard Barnard talks about the amazing St Aidan’s reserve and how it is helping the local community.


Grey heron stalking through water

Last Updated: Monday 6 April 2020

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