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Communities plant trees for natural flood management

The Tree Council

May 6, 2021

tree planting for flood management

Lewis Morrison, Head of Tree Planting Projects, shares some of the community projects we have supported with Network Rail to plant trees for natural flood management

In spite of the challenges of lockdown, the Network Rail / Tree Council Community Tree Planting Programme has seen incredible success in its inaugural year, with over 90,000 trees planted, 10km of hedgerow established, and over a dozen communities engaged and directly participating in ground preparation, planting, and mulching.

Trees as a natural flood defence

The ‘ecosystem services’ of trees, such as increasing biodiversity or improving soil quality, are key benefits of all of the community led planting projects, but some specialist areas have come to the fore over year one, in particular around Natural Flood Management (NFM) and tree planting to specifically deliver local flood attenuation, where water is held on the land for longer and so reducing flooding of watercourses downstream.

This is a specialist area of work as it is not as simple as just planting trees near watercourses, and a number of our partners have shown how their expertise and knowledge-driven approach has ensured tree planting for NFM is done is a way which is fit for purpose and does not conflict with other local site priorities, for example wildflower meadows.

Natural flood defences taking root across the country

In planting over 600 hedge and standard trees to mitigate annual flooding near Winford in North Somerset, Bristol and Avon Rivers Trust first engaged landowners, thereby enabling them to survey the land to identify where the best opportunities were to reduce surface water run-off and ‘intercept’ high volume water. Tree planting then focussed on these areas, for example across slopes. This required full cooperation of the farmer, who was giving over (albeit waterlogged) pasture for the trees. Livestock wellbeing should improve from a drier pasture in the future.

In Matterdale, Cumbria, the environmental charity Another Way partnered with Ullswater Catchment Management and local farming families and volunteers to plant over 10,000 hedging trees to provide flood mitigation at the head of the water catchment draining into Ullswater, while restoring ‘lost’ heritage hedgerows. Storm Desmond in 2015 was a key inspiration for this project.

Another river catchment level tree planting project saw Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) Gloucestershire plant over 20,000 hedging trees at the upper catchment of the River Thames. This followed the Defra ‘test and trials’ pilot focussing on Integrated Local Delivery, where partners worked closely together on mapping, data and project planning, delivering tree-based flood solutions that benefit both the local and wider area.

FWAG Dorset led a project in the headwaters of Upper Frome to reduce flooding of property and roads by stopping floodwater run-off at source, delivering multiple benefits of reducing flood risk, cleaner water, habitat and biodiversity improvement, and enhanced landscape. The project is part of the wider Poole Harbour Catchment Initiative.

Partnership is key to all of these projects, with other partners including Environment Agency, Catchment Sensitive Farming, local authorities, farmers, water utility companies and more.


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