This week was one in which residents of Ruthin’s Glasdir Estate demanded answers. When buying their new homes they were assured that that flood defences meant there was only a one-in-1,000-year chance of their homes being hit. But last year over a hundred families suffered the misery of seeing their houses flooded, their property damaged and their lives disrupted.
The independent report published earlier this week pointed the finger at blocked culverts and Denbighshire County Council promised that ‘lessons would be learnt’. I hope they will be. But isn’t there one more lesson that we should keep in mind?
The natural environment and trees in particular can play a huge part in helping to absorb surface water run-off and thus reduce risk of flooding to thousands of homes across Wales. Broadleaved woodland is on average 67 times more effective than improved, grazed grassland at absorbing surface water run-off. In contrast traditional flood defences are notoriously expensive and at worst simply risk moving the problem downstream.
An alternative solution that won’t break the bank, is to make the natural world our ally in reducing flood risk. The scientific data collected at the Pontbren scheme in Powys, has shown conclusively that strategically planted, narrow, fenced shelterbelts of trees across slopes capture water run-off from the pasture above and allow it to soak more rapidly into the soil. Sub-catchments dominated by agriculturally improved land have higher flood peaks than those with more natural landscapes. However if tree shelter belts are located in the right places on improved land, reductions in peak flow of around 40% may be achievable.
In Wales alone the government already spends around £44 million each year to improve and expand the network of 2,900km of flood defences. The cost is expected to triple to £135 million by 2035 to cope with the risks of unsustainable land use and a changing climate.
The creation earlier this year of a new single environmental body, Natural Resources Wales, holds out the possibility of finding new, innovative and more cost efficient means of reducing flood risk, means that would positive enhance the quality of the local environment – by planting native trees in the best places for reducing flood risk.
It’s an amazing opportunity, but one that it’s fair to say, NRW has not really managed to deliver on so far. If you agree that this is an opportunity that Wales should not miss – to protect thousands of households from the misery of flooding while positively enhancing the quality of the environment – then then there’s something very positive you can do to help!
Coed Cadw (Woodland Trust) is calling on the Welsh Government to support the planting of 10 million trees (very achieveable across the whole of Wales) over five years where they will best help soak up rainfall, slow down water runoff and reduce flood risk. Over 1,500 people have already added their support. If you want to stop thousands more people having to suffer the misery of flooding, would you be willing to spend five minutes signing this petition?
The petition is available now at www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/flooding.
Rory Francis, Communications Officer Coed Cadw