Green councillor Sarah Lunnon has steered her council into going back to nature to both tackle floods and help wildlife on the streams of the six river valleys that run into Stroud in Gloucestershire.
Instead of spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on concrete and steel structures, it has been using trees and other natural features to reduce the risk of flooding in the area.
The initiative began following disastrous floods of 2007 where several rivers such as the Frome and the Slad Brook overflowed their banks or culverts and flooded parts of the town.
Residents who had been affected set up groups to campaign for flood protection measures. Cllr Lunnon, a Gloucesterhire County Councillor became chair of the Slad Brook Action Group.
Their campaign was given extra urgency by the Environment Agency designating the Slad Brook a “Rapid Response Catchment”, at risk of destructive flash flooding similar to the flooding that destroyed parts of Boscastle, Cornwall. But building concrete barriers would be expensive and ruin the atmosphere of the countryside, made famous by Slad resident Laurie Lee in his novel Cider with Rosie.
So in 2012 Cllr Lunnon got the Environment Agency to commission a report into the benefits of implementing natural flood management throughout the catchment. The EA’s report said it would work.
That in turn led to funding of a scheme, known as the Rural Sustainable Drainage System (RSuDs), funded by the Severn and Wye Regional Flood and Coastal Committee. Stroud District Council is leading on the project with Gloucestershire County Council and the Environment Agency.
Working with local land owners, natural flood defence structures have been built in the headwaters of the Slad Brook and Painswick Stream and the council has released a film about the project and its work with local communities.
Over 60 individual natural flood defences have been constructed with many more due to be built this year. The cost of the work is much lower than engineered and hard flood defences and the structures fit well within the landscape.
Project officer, Chris Uttley said: “Sustainable drainage systems have been in use in the built-up environment for a number of years now and this project uses these same principles but on a much larger scale. The overall aim is to reduce flood risk, improve water quality and restore wildlife.
“We are using a wide range of natural flood management techniques, including the building of large woody leaky dams across streams, excavating dry ponds and diverting flood water into natural soakaways.
“Some structures work by spreading water over the neighbouring land, others act like baffles, physically slowing down flood flows. All the structures provide great habitats for wildlife, reduce the amount of silt travelling downstream and importantly, slow the rate at which floods travel down the valleys, lowering the peak water height”
Sarah said that the scheme had so far cost £45,000, but that the benefits with RSuds schemes (such as extra wildlife habitat and reduced flood risk) were difficult to put a price on. It was certainly too early to give a conventional cost benefit analysis.