So its my job to tell you how all you have heard previously has been brought together in the Stroud project. We can see that NFM operates within national policy (which is hopefully rapidly catching up), can depend upon the support & funding of Regional flood and coastal committees, is part of the Local Flood risk management strategy and supported by the LLFA, but also crucially, has the support and involvement of the local community.
Now, although the project has been formally running for just under three years, of course it all started soon after the flooding in 2007. There was a long period of adversity, discussion, changing priorities and a gradual coming together of authorities and community. Suffice to say it was heavily community inspired.
Alot of people were involved in that period, many of them in the room & following this process, which bear in mind, took 7 years, the RFCC eventually provided the revenue funding for pay for my post, for initially three years, but now 6.
Now this being the Stroud project, you will be pleased to hear that I won’t be going into much detail on the background technical work or data collection that took place in the run up to the project.
No, as those of you who know me and are familiar with the project will know, what I’m going to do, is cut to the chase, and go straight into the nitty gritty of the work. What I’m going to do is show you the main structure that underpins the Stroud NFM project and launch straight into what I believe should be the most important part of any NFM work on the ground. Its the structure that has probably helped attenuate, filter and store more water than any other in the catchment.
This really is the key to the Stroud model of NFM. What I’m going to do now, is show you how the Stroud model can really be distilled into three basic principles, and that, abit like an NFM recipe book, I think it is possible to follow and replicate in hundreds of catchments around the country.
So, sounds great, & everyone would claim community support and involvement, but what does it actually mean in practice?
It means involving flood groups in development of the project & in choosing the project officer. It means involving them in discussions with landowners, asking them for and information. It usually means evening or weekend meetings at their convenience. Providing them with minutes of meetings that have been held about the project.
An important part of this is keeping Parish Councils involved and informed. Making sure you are honest and open about the limitations of the work
Why do this? Well, on the selfish side, if your residents are with you, your local politicians are with you, which means local funding sources are more readily available. But also, its healthy for residents to feel involved. Flooding leaves many people feeling disempowered, and this is sometimes further exacerbated by large centrally organised, top down engineering projects that will be built in 5 years time. NFM is something that communties and residents can be involved in almost straight away.
What about partnership working? Working with flooded residents is of course part of this, but its also about recognising that you will need the help of alot of other people and organisations to deliver any work on the ground. This involves establishing an open and trusting dialogue about what you want to do and what they want to do. It means compromise and recognising that other people sometimes know more.
So, to put a face to it, partnership working looks like this: Matt from NT who lets us work on their estate holding Richard and Roger from GWT, who help us to find landowners to work with, help us to talk to other wildlife bodies and help us to build some of our projects. Brian from the EA, who helps design works, does paperwork and finds money Dave from SDC, who consents the works and does back room logistics, Matt and other from GCC, who help with funding Anne & Phil from the RFCC, who helps set the regional priorities for FRM and helped secure the funding for this project Dave from FC who consents to tree felling for the work.
So we have community involvement and we work with our formal partners, but this is the second basic ingredient that we think leads to a successful project. To coin a phrase from the League of Gentlemen, the Stroud project is a local solution, using local labour, local materials and local expertise. But again, what does this mean in practice?
A NFM project means taking advantage of natural processes on farmland or woodland. We build things that mimic or take advantage of natural drainage processes, but of course that farmland and woodland is owned by people and we rely upon those people to help us build NFM. This means the full involvement of landowners in project delivery if they want . I’ll say abit more about that in a moment, but it also means working with local agricultural and woodland contractors and building capacity and skills in the local labour force. It means working with volunteer groups and in Stroud, groups from the Cotswold AONB, the RAU & GWT have all helped us to build structures. We even had a group of volunteers down from Hebden Bridge in West Yorks who wanted to learn about large woody debris dam building.
So abit more about how we work in Stroud. We will always offer the contract to build the structures or undertake any other work to the landowner or a contractor they have been working with first. Five of our project sites have been built by the landowners and another half dozen by contractors preffered by the landowner. These are some of the farmers and woodland owners we have worked with in this way. Our schemes are always designed with the landowners , even where this means we need to compromise on what we can acheive. But let me tell you this. Not a single one of our landowners receives any compensation money in return for allowing us to work. All work sites are offered voluntarily.
So what are the benefits of this? Enormous! We can and have built a large amount of low cost, effective NFM in the catchment. We have used 9 local contractors for works, and for many of these, this means developing skills and capacity in a new line of work, which they can carry to other contracts not specifically about NFM. We have evidence of this happening. And Because the landowners have helped design and build the works, they understand how it is meant to work, how to look after it, and what to do in the longer term. They feel that they are making a contribution to solving a local problem. And they are.
But what about the technical side. Ahh, here comes the data and the modelling I hear you think. But no, we have a basic principle, which is to build a very large number of small interventions dispersed around the catchment. Each one being low risk and low cost.
And of course we use alot of trees, but not all woody debris is doing the same job. How do we reduce flood risk using natural methods? How do you slow the flow, take the peak off the hydrograph, however you want to describe it? Again, there are really only three things you can do to water and many of our structures do all three. All of these are accepted as part of development SUDS as working, and yet, we seem to lose confidence when we do them in the countryside. First, you can physically slow it down by increasing the roughness of the ground over which it is flowing, or the roughness of the catchment. You can attenuate or store it for a short period of time. Or
Or you can encourage it to infiltrate into the ground, by allowing it to stand in large shallow pools or building actual soakaways, or by spreading it out over a large surface area.
So what can be achieved by a small scale project? Well, So far, after three years working, there are just over 280 NFM interventions within the Stroud river Frome catchment. We’ve worked in about 18km of stream directly, but there are plenty of interventions that are not in stream too. This means about 21% of the catchment area now flows through our interventions (and no, we haven’t built one right at the bottom to boost our figures. These are all in the upper catchment or the tops of minor springs and tributaries even where these flow into the main water courses)
But its all well and good building all of this I can hear you thinking, but is it effective? Well, we know that when needed, they are effective at slowing the flow and creating attenuation. We have seen them working, albeit occasionally. These photos are of a couple of structures in the Slad Valley. The top photos were taken in dry conditions, soon after construction and the lower photos are taken on March 9th last year, when Stroud had about 35mm in 10 hrs. So there is no doubt they work on an individual basis, but the key research question is “how much do we need to do to make a difference to flood risk2
So there is no doubt they work on an individual basis, but the key research question is “how much do we need to do to make a difference to flood risk”. How many interventions are needed across what percentage of the catchment?
Whilst reducing flood risk is clearly our key objective, there are a range of other benefits if projects are done well. Volunteer interaction, films to educate, case study notes to help others do similar works.
Not to forget the funding. By the end of the project, this will be a significant amount of funding that would not otherwise have been spent. Many areas interested in NFM are not doing it because of a sudden conversion to sustainability (although that is certainly a factor), its because they wouldn’t qualify for contemporary flood defence spending. The type of flood risk that affects many Stroud residents is the type affecting thousands other people in the country, a rural pattern of frequent flooding, the type that rarely attracts significant expenditure due to the costs/benefits system governing flood defence spending.
The biodiversity benefits of all this work are likely to be significant. We know that the type of work we are doing works at the small scale, but again, we need to be able to measure the total benefits more effectively.
If you build it, they will come and see it. We have had over 200 people from various organisations walking through the Stroud Valleys to have a look at our work and they come from a wide range of places.
Lessons learned. Firstly, keep it local and as community lead as possible. Work with flood action groups, councils at all levels & as many landowners as possible. Work with the local people from NGOs and any local organisations first. Keep it local with contractors too. Make sure wherever possible, you tender works to local agricultural and woodland contractors.
On the construction side, let many and small be your guiding principle at first. Less risk, easier to construct. Avoid the temptation to attenuate the maximum possible wherever you can. You can always do more later
Start working as far upstream as possible. We have worked further upstream than the first permanent watercourses, to influence the surface drainage from land. This means you are often working mostly on OWC, and many of the techniques we use are not suited to larger rivers. Also, by the time the water is in the main river, it may be too late to influence the hydrograph and attention turns to defence.
For heavens sake, don’t wait for perfect data before starting. Accept uncertainty and risk and deal with it by starting small in (relatively) risk free areas. Its more important to start building confidence.
Finally, don’t focus on volumes, heights and measurements. Just get on and start and then worry about the measurements when you have got enough stuff on the ground to make it worth measuring. The only volumes you need to measure & worry about for the first few years are these.
Presentation by Chris Uttley, Stroud RSuds Project Officer - Delivery of Natural Flood Management by a Local Authority and partners
Stroud Rural Sustainable Drainage Project.
Three years of Natural Flood Management in the
What is the Stroud model of Natural Flood
What does community
involvement look like?
Flood groups in initial
Flood groups on interview
panel for choosing project
Regular evening meetings
with Flood groups.
Engagement with Parish
Councils before works
Flood groups engage
landowners in project, visit
work sites and volunteer in
Honesty, engagement &
What does working in a proper
partnership look like?
Early & open working with partners.
Compromise on timing & extent of work
Helping partners to achieve their objectives
Trusting partners to deliver
Make use of partners expertise
Additional outputs & benefits
>150 days volunteer time
2 Films to publicise the project
Case study notes, signage & conference
c£250k of external funding invested in Stroud
District to date. (£500k by end of project)
Biodiversity benefits likely to be significant –
> deadwood, creating wetter habitats, slowing silt,
Reducing spates, better invert’ & fish habitat.
Lessons Learned from Stroud
1. Keep it local & community lead
2. Build capacity in landowners, local contractors &
3. Build small and many rather than few and large.
4. Start as upstream as possible
5. Don’t wait for perfect data before building. Focus on low
risk, certain wins to gain confidence.
6. Don’t focus on volumes, heights and measurements.