Slowing the flow of water as it leaves the hills

Over the last few winters we’ve seen the impact of major flooding on communities and the landscapes across the UK. Nigel Hester, project manager at the National Trust, reflects on some of the lessons from a major flood demonstration project in north Somerset:

The weather this winter has been characterised by a series of storms battering the UK with gales, mountainous seas and record amounts of rainfall, causing misery, damage and disruption to homes, businesses, infrastructure and the landscape.


Allerford 4

Water flowing through the village of Allerford on the River Aller; one of two villages that have been at risk of flooding as the waters head down from the hills of Exmoor

In recent years, there has been a shift in focus in flood risk management recognising that, in addition to conventional flood measures, more can be achieved by allowing the land to function more naturally. This natural flood management is at the core of an exciting demonstration flood project at the National Trust’s Holnicote Estate in Exmoor.

The project, core funded by Defra, has been running for 6 years and shows how working with nature, introducing some careful natural flood management interventions, and working in partnership, can contribute to reducing local flood risk and, importantly, provide a range of other benefits for the environment and local communities.

The target area for the work is based on the whole catchment approach, working from source of the rivers Horner and Aller high on Exmoor down to the Bristol Channel, using natural features to slow down or store flood water before it reaches the downstream villages of Allerford and Bossington.

East from bund top

One of the bunds, helping to store the water when the river levels rise, helping to reduce the risk of flooding in the villages of Allerford and Bossington

Since 2011 a range of natural flood management measures have been undertaken including moorland drainage interventions, woody debris dams, woodland creation, leaky weirs and flood storage areas on the floodplain.

Partnership work with farmers has also focused on improved soil management to reduce run-off and soil loss during rainfall events. In addition, it has been critical to have an extensive hydrological monitoring network in place to provide high quality rainfall and flow data to capture the effects on any land management changes made.

The extreme weather events in recent years have been a good test of the natural flood management measures implemented and the key outcomes are very positive. During a severe storm in late December 2013, when the ground was already waterlogged, there was a 10% reduction in the flood peak reaching the downstream villages.

In the extremely wet winter of 2013/14, there was no flooding in the vulnerable catchment villages that have experienced regular flooding in the past. The insurance value of the properties at risk is estimated at £30 million yet the capital costs of constructing the flood storage area were £163,000, a small cost in comparison.

Despite the high rainfall experienced so far in 2016, people’s homes have remained dry and the river has remained in its channel. The work has not finished at Holnicote; there are still lots of opportunities to slow the flow even further by encouraging the land to act as a natural sponge and the National Trust is committed to finding ways to continue this work into the future.

England Coast Path on track for 2020

Minister confirms funding to complete the coast path around England by 2020 will be protected

The Ramblers and National Trust are celebrating the news that funding to complete the England Coast Path by 2020 will be protected, despite recently announced reductions to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) budget.

Runners on the South West Coast Path, Studland, Dorset.

Runners on the South West Coast Path, Studland, Dorset. Credit National Trust images.

Chancellor George Osborne presented his Autumn Statement last week, detailing £20bn of budget cuts intended to eliminate the budget deficit. Given the substantial cuts expected, the Ramblers have been working hard to ensure the government maintains its commitment to construct the England Coast Path by 2020, so that the substantial momentum, experience and benefits realised to date are not lost. Continue reading

National Trust response to Spending Review

The National Trust outlines below its response to the Spending Review announcements made today.

Richard Hebditch, External Affairs Director for the National Trust, said: “The Government’s commitment to ensure the new commercial model for English Heritage will have sufficient funding is very welcome, as is recognition of the importance of heritage, and Historic England, more generally. Within Defra’s budgets, we’re particularly pleased to see the protection of funding for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks and public forests. In the last Parliament, Nick Clegg also announced funding for Natural England to complete the England Coastal Path by 2020 but we have to see confirmation that that funding will continue – we trust it will.

“Though there has been good news in terms of some of DCMS and Defra’s settlements, we’re disappointed to see further reforms proposed for the planning system, on top of those proposed in the Housing and Planning Bill. Local council planning teams have been cut back by more than 40% in the last five years. Further changes to planning rules will place additional burdens on these teams, and risk destabilising the Government’s plans for good quality housebuilding.”

National Trust responds to Defra’s Plant Security Strategy

Today (April 30) an updated Tree Health Management Plan has been published by the Government’s Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Taskforce, alongside a wider Plant Biosecurity Strategy.

Reacting to the reports, a spokesperson at the National Trust said: “We welcome the publication of the strategy but it is unclear if there is sufficient funding or resources being allocated to this problem to really make a difference.

“Trees and plants don’t have votes so cuts to Defra’s budgets are sometimes seen as easier for Government but the consequences can be devastating for our wildlife, landscapes and rural economy.”

National Trust reaction to Government announcement on badgers

Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director at the National Trust, said: “We’re pleased that the Government has recognised the need to learn lessons from the pilots. We wrote to Defra last year expressing our deepest concerns about the conduct of the culls, so it’s encouraging that they appear to be listening.

“We welcome their commitment to looking harder at the potential of vaccination at the heart of a suite of measures to get this devastating disease under control, including funding for vaccination projects and continued efforts to reduce the risks of cattle giving other cattle the disease – still the greatest route for the infection to spread. We’ve funded our own large vaccination programme on our Killerton estate so we’re pleased Defra are now looking to support programmes like this.

“What is clear to us, as an organisation that cares about wildlife and our farm tenants who carry out much of our conservation work in the wider countryside, is that the Government’s actions must be based on sound scientific evidence and meet highest possible standards of conduct, or risk making this devastating disease even worse. We are pleased that they appear to be listening, but will need to look at the detail of the strategy and the panel’s report before concluding our position.”

CAP and future proofing farming

National Trust Rural Enterprises Director, Patrick Begg, reflects on the announcement today by the Government on how its carving up funds from the Common Agricultural Policy:

I wonder in life if there’s always a slightly misplaced sense of relief whenever dodging a metaphorical bullet?  Perhaps that’s why the announcements today on England’s Common Agricultural Policy settlement has solicited an initial huge sigh of relief followed by a more reflective, at least in me, air of disquiet about the general direction of travel.  

It’s refreshing that DEFRA has battled hard to bolster support for agri-environment schemes and the promised staged move from 12% to 15% of funds transferred from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 (if delivered) will be a positive move [1].  Also, the emerging design of the new green farming schemes looks progressive and in many ways enlightened.  In fact, there’s a sense that the concept of fundamental environmental protection and enhancement lying at the heart of the future of a sustainable farming system has retained and even strengthened its currency in DEFRA.  Owen Paterson has stuck to his mantra of “public goods for public money.”

But if you delve deeper the Government’s core focus on the short term growth agenda in the countryside at the cost of long term viability of farming is still a major concern.  The late interventions from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Treasury to try and divert vital funds within Pillar 2 away from  farming that benefits nature to Local Enterprise Partnerships-led rural growth schemes confirms this persistent threat.  And make no bones about it, in real terms, over the course of the next 7 years, there will be less cash available to encourage the style of farming that safeguards and nurtures soils, water and wildlife and delivers real public benefit for the investment of huge sums of public money.  We cannot be pleased with that overarching truth.

No-one can disagree that environmental quality is the fundamental building block of a healthy and resilient countryside and that it lies at the heart of farming’s future.  Likewise, sustaining and increasing public support for farming and its role in delivering a rich and beautiful landscape must be critical.  Yet every indicator tells us that England’s natural environment is under pressure and in decline like never before.  We also know that people have become disconnected from the natural world and the outdoors at an alarming rate.  

Without well-resourced and robust long term plans for improving the quality of the environment, it’s hard to see how farming’s future, and the sense of instinctive public support that it enjoys, can be secured.  DEFRA needs to continue to fight, make and win the case for a broader and deeper commitment to future-proofing farming and securing its environmental foundations, whether through direct or indirect subsidies.


[1] Pillar 1 is made up of direct subsidies that go to farmers and Pillar 2 consists of money from the Rural Development Programme which supports schemes to improve the farmed environment, boost rural economies and improve competitiveness.

Response to Defra’s recommendations of the Tree Health and Biosecurity Task Force announced this morning

Dr Simon Pryor, Natural Environment Director at the National Trust said: “We welcome the moves announced by Defra today.  It’s particularly good that it has accepted the remaining plant health taskforce recommendations.

“We are pleased to see a strategy and high level commitment to reprioritise resources and we look forward to hearing more in the spring about the measures being put in place to protect the UK from future plant and tree health diseases. 

“Government must also ensure we have the resources to tackle those diseases already here, as well as any future ones.”