SRA Annual Report 2018-19: Land Management summary, UK River Prize and other highlights (W2)
24 capital grant schemes, 15 Triple C schemes, 23 highways referrals, 17 soil visits, UK’s first online auctions for natural flood management works and 14 actions; Hills to Levels won the UK River Prize.
Somerset Rivers Authority funds the biggest range of natural flood management activities in the UK as part of its Land Management workstream. This award-winning workstream is admired nationally for its innovation, strong partnership working and increasing sophistication. It is led for the SRA by the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group SW (FWAG SW). Activities generally go under the popular local branding of Hills to Levels. This makes it easier for partners to get involved and to contribute match-funding so that more can be achieved. It also helps that as Somerset has some famous hills and valleys and floodplains, the idea of trying to slow the flow of water from Hills to Levels can be simply understood.
There are three main strands to this SRA workstream. They are:
Capital grants offered to farmers and landowners for Natural Flood Management projects that slow the flow of water and reduce flooding risks across the county.
‘Highways referrals’ – that is, looking for answers to highway flooding problems in better management of land nearby.
Soil husbandry to reduce surface run-off.
Triple C match-funded schemes
UK River Prize and other highlights
In April 2018, Hills to Levels won the UK River Prize for 2018. The project was first selected as a finalist in the category ‘Catchment-scale project – Demonstrating a whole river approach to restoration’. The UK River Prize celebrates people and organisations that improve rivers and catchments, and seek to create a healthy natural environment.
The SRA is one of several bodies that have funded Hills to Levels over the last three years, firstly using Growth Deal money from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership and more recently, money from council tax.
In the past year the SRA has approved 54 grant applications for natural flood management schemes across Somerset and 131 natural flood management structures and direct land management interventions in 55 different fields.
All this work aims to reduce the depth and duration of floods in Somerset; diminish local flash flooding and flood risks; and minimise sediment being washed from fields on to the banks of rivers. Benefits include less need for de-silting in lower catchments and less need for pumping to remove water on the Levels.
One trend in this workstream is the increasing density and sophistication of schemes in particular areas. This helps to make each different element more effective. For example, more natural flood management works have been completed in 2018-19 on the outskirts of Yeovil. Eight leaky woody dams have been created near Lufton College to slow the flow of water entering Wellhams Brook, and major pond improvement works have been carried out at Manor Farm, Lufton. Modelling – and anecdotal evidence from flood wardens – suggests that these works and other schemes near Yeovil are benefitting the Martock area.
Martock Parish Council’s Chair wrote to say thank you for NFM work upstream of Martock, in places such as Lufton, Montacute, Odcombe and Bower Hinton. It has provided “a degree of control over peak flows… it will minimise the number of flooding events in the village. Since the introduction of Hills to Levels work, I am pleased to inform you that no further floods associated with the water draining from the Martock catchment have occurred in the Parish.”
Another example: seven woody leaky dams were created in the Marcombe Valley, near Ashbrittle in the River Tone catchment. These dams complement a series of earlier natural flood management interventions along this tributary of the Tone, including 13 other leaky woody dams, new ponds and de-silting of lakes. Work on the lakes was done with a Ruston-Bucyrus dragline (see back cover), bought and specially restored for this job by the landowner (an enthusiast for vintage machinery).
FWAG SW have installed gauges to help measure changes in flows around three of the newest dams in the Marcombe Valley, and the effectiveness of all these projects in reducing flood risks is being monitored by a PhD student from Bristol. Data collected will help to create computer models that can evaluate the effects of natural flood management at catchment-scale. This is potentially a very significant piece of research, because one of the debates about the value of natural flood management in the past has been about the geographical spread of its impact.