Tree planting 'reduced peak river flows by 20 percent'

A NATURAL flood management scheme highlighted by Confor had a major impact in preventing devastation in an English town, a new report revealed today. 

The Slowing The Flow project, which included planting 40,000 trees, prevented flooding at Pickering, North Yorkshire over Christmas, at a time when heavy rainfall caused severe flooding across the region.

A detailed analysis of the project, published today, concludes that the natural flood management measures reduced peak river flows by 15-20 per cent at a time when 50mm of rain fell on sodden ground in 36 hours. The scheme was set up in 2009 after the town suffered four serious floods in a decade.

Slowing The Flow also included 300 "leaky" dams and the restoration of heather moorland, all intended to slow the flow of water into the river and reduce its peak height. The project cost the government £500,000, significantly less than 'hard' defences like flood walls.

The scheme featured as a positive example of what could be achieved by natural flood management in Confor's report earlier this year, Forestry and Flooding.

The Forestry and Flooding report, including the Pickering case study, formed the basis of Confor's evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee's inquiry into future flood prevention, which is taking evidence today. Confor has been promised by EFRA committee chairman Neil Parish MP that it will have the opportunity to present oral evidence at a later stage.

Andrew Heald, Technical Director for Confor and author of its Forestry and Flooding report, said: "Today's report on Pickering offers further vindication for the very simple argument that tree planting has an important part to play in reducing future flood risks. The report concludes that the scheme prevented flooding that would otherwise have occurred, both to homes in Pickering and to the town museum.

"Confor has always been clear that tree planting is just part of the answer - but as today's report shows, it is a very important part. It is encouraging that the UK Government understands the case for tree planting in mitigating flooding - and we need to see swift action in terms of identifying where tree planting would be best deployed and how we pay for it. As the Pickering report shows, this is not just an effective approach, it is a very cost-effective approach too."

Confor's Chief Executive Stuart Goodall will meet with a range of stakeholders, including Rory Stewart MP, the EFRA minister responsible for both forestry and flooding, at a National Flood Resilience Review meeting on Monday.

Mr Goodall has written to Chancellor George Osborne welcoming the additional £550 million for flood defences in his last budget and encouraging some of that money to be put into natural flood defence schemes like Slowing The Flow. "Confor hopes that some of the £550 million extra funding announced in your budget speech can go towards encouraging additional tree planting as a means of bolstering this country's flood reduction measures in the future," the letter says.