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.

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A review of 2014: the year of the biting fly

Extreme weather in 2014 created an unpredictable rollercoaster of a year for our beleaguered wildlife and saw a raft of migrant species visiting our shores, say experts at the National Trust in their annual wildlife and weather round-up.

As a result of the warm, often wet summer, this year’s wildlife winners include biting flies, slugs and snails. More positively, many resident birds, mammals and amphibians also had good breeding seasons, although the picture is patchy and localised.

Birling Gap, Credit National Trust

Birling Gap, Credit National Trust

The year, however, will be most remembered for the winter storms in January and February; indicating the challenges that the natural world could face with the growing extremes of weather some of which may be caused by climate change.

National Trust rangers looking after the 742 miles of coastline cared for by the charity across England, Wales and Northern Ireland witnessed several years’ worth of erosion, while inland many of the Trust’s gardens and parklands suffered their greatest tree losses in almost 30 years.

Little terns along the Norfolk coast at Blakeney had to nest in low areas as a result of severe tidal surges which changed the beach profile. High tides followed in mid-June and flooded the seabirds’ nests resulting in a very poor breeding season.

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Study reveals threats to UK breeding seabirds

UK breeding seabirds are under threat from a triple whammy of extreme weather, predators and human disturbance, a new National Trust report has revealed.

Puffins on the Farne Islands off of the Northumberland coast

Puffins on the Farne Islands off of the Northumberland coast

The study of seabird sites along the Trust’s 742 miles of coastline was carried out by the conservation organisation to evaluate the importance of National Trust locations for seabirds and to recognise the issues that impact breeding success.

Following the findings, the report calls for more regular monitoring to help detect any changes in seabird colonies, which can happen over a short period of time, and a greater awareness of human impact on breeding populations.

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Boscastle Reflections Ten Years On

Ian Kemp, General Manager for North Cornwall, reflects on the Boscastle flash floods which devastated the village a decade ago.

Ten years ago my job took me to Boscastle only once every ten days or so. August 16th 2004 just happened to be one of those days.

The day after the flash floods revealed the extent of the devastation caused to Boscastle. Credit National Trust.

I had gone to the village for what should have been a routine meeting with our shop staff.  By mid-afternoon the river had swollen to the size of the Thames at Westminster and the shop staff and I found ourselves scrambling up steep valley sides to safety under the watchful gaze of an RAF helicopter rescue crew.

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Gardeners urged not to panic over the heat

Keep flowers in bloom during the heatwave with our gardener tips

Keep flowers in bloom during the heatwave with our gardener tips

Gardeners have only two rules to follow when dealing with long periods of heat, according to National Trust gardeners.

These are: water pots and herbaceous beds in the morning and evening only and don’t panic into watering grass.

With a 25 acre garden to look after, the 6-strong team at the National Trust’s ScotneyCastle has more than 84 years of experience between them and is well placed to offer gardening advice.

Paul Micklewright, Garden and Estate Manager at ScotneyCastle, said: “Like other National Trust places, at Scotney we never water grass, even in a heatwave.

“Grass is very good at dealing with a lack of water, even if it turns brown it will be able to bounce back when the rains return later in the year.

“For pots and herbaceous beds, it’s best to water first thing in the morning or last thing at night to avoid damaging plants.

“When the sun shines on water it can act like a magnifying glass, burning the leaves below, so it’s best to avoid the times that the sun as it its highest.”

For more tips on caring for your garden in the heat, visit http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/gardens

Puffin numbers rally after 2008 crash

Results from a three-month survey of puffins on the world famous National Trust Farne Islands, off the Northumberland coast, have shown an eight per cent increase in the number of breeding puffin pairs since 2008 when the last census showed a dramatic fall in numbers.

A team of eleven National Trust rangers carried out a full census of the population, which happens once every five years, across eight islands with the final figures showing that there are just under 40,000 (39,962) pairs of nesting puffins.

2003 was the peak year for puffins on the Farne Islands with over 55,000 (55,674) nesting pairs recorded and numbers had been steadily increasing since the 1960s. However the 2008 survey revealed a dramatic crash in numbers by nearly one third to just 36,835 pairs.

 David Steel, Head Ranger on the National Trust Farne Islands, commented,

“The results of the puffin census come as a real relief following some difficult years for them – with the flooding of burrows last year and a very challenging winter.  We had feared that the numbers of puffins would be down again as has happened on other colonies, including those on the Shetland Islands.

 “The bad weather during recent seasons has had some impact on numbers, but with a good nesting habitat secured by us and a plentiful supply of food in the area, numbers have been recovering pretty strongly, which is great news for the puffins and other seabirds.”

 Extreme weather has had a major impact on puffins in the north-sea in the last couple of years.  The 2012 breeding season was hit hard with the second wettest summer on record flooding many burrows, where puffins live.

Earlier this year, just as puffins were returning to the colonies in March, storms resulted in the deaths of thousands of seabirds along the coasts of north-east England and Scotland. Over 3,500 bodies were collected and ringing recoveries suggested that many of the birds involved were breeding adults from local colonies.

 Professor Mike Harris from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology added,

“The wreck was unusual in that it occurred when puffins were returning to their colonies and were close to land.  It’s likely that a very high proportion of the total number of birds that died were found, therefore exaggerating the severity of the mortality.

 “The Isle of May puffin population, 100 km to the north of the Farnes, has also shown no sign of a decline in numbers following the winter puffin disaster. Puffin survival over the last winter was not exceptionally low, despite fears after the wreck.”

The unmistakeable puffin with its bright beak and slightly comical walk is a much loved symbol of the British coastline. During the survey, which began in May, the rangers put their arms into holes to make sure that the nests are occupied.

Puffin census_infographic

 David Steel concluded,

“The poor spring weather affected the timing of the breeding season, with the birds that did survive, breeding late”.

“However this late start may result in puffins remaining at the colonies until later in the summer than normal, giving people even more opportunity to enjoy watching them.”

 For the first time, nest cameras have been inserted into puffin burrows to record the birds’ behaviour in intimate detail. The footage, along with details on how the rangers are progressing with the 2013 puffin census, can be seen at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/puffins or follow progress on twitter at #puffincensus.