Living with change - managing water and flooding

A view of flooded fields from Glastonbury Tor, Somerset

Climate change is causing extreme weather across the UK. In the winter of 2013-14, high tides and constant rainfall caused a huge amount of damage to homes and landscapes. We take a look at our pilot project in Exmoor that's helping to tackle the effects of climate change.

Climate change is causing extreme weather across the UK. In the winter of 2013-14, high tides and constant rainfall caused a huge amount of damage to homes and landscapes. We take a look at our pilot project in Exmoor that's helping to tackle the effects of climate change.

We have to come to terms with the challenges of living in the age of extreme weather. When it comes to reducing the risk of flooding, we have to think holistically. We need to look at how we slow the water down from source to sea. If we get the pieces of the jigsaw right by intervening and managing water, we can make a difference.

Working together to protect places

For the last five years we've been managing a major project, with funding and support from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Environment Agency, on the north coast of Somerset.

The quintessentially English villages of Bossington and Allerford were vulnerable to flash flooding as the water cascaded down from the uplands of Exmoor into Porlock Bay. This ambitious and innovative project wanted to look at how changes in land use could help to slow down the speed and volume of water.

The St Jude storm that hit Britain in October and the persistent and intense rain since early December put the scheme through its first big test. Cottages in Bossington and Allerford that would normally have flooded have remained dry and the flow of the streams has been manageable.

What have we done?

The project has focused on using natural processes to slow the water down in catchment of the rivers Aller and Horner. We care for 90 per cent of these catchment areas.

On the windswept hills of Exmoor, we've created catch pools and diverted surface water from paths and tracks to help slow the flow, and we've reduced the run-off from moorland by blocking ditches. The planting of wet woodland en route as the rivers travel towards their destination helps slow the progress of water as trees are great at absorbing water.

A return of water meadows, where fields are allowed to flood in the winter, has created much needed space for water and seen wildfowl arriving to take advantage of this new habitat. And the construction of five large earth bunds has provided a place to hold the water temporarily during intense rainfall events and release it slowly into the rivers as they flowed towards the sea.

Read the report

A key learning is that need to understand the complete catchment from source to sea. This project shows that changes to the way we manage our land can benefit flood risk, water quality, soil management, wildlife and the local community.

Download the full report: From source to sea - natural flood management (PDF / 2.619140625MB) download