As well as the various natural flood management (NFM) projects we have running within the iCASP programme at the moment, we also provide information and guidance to other organisations with their NFM projects.
A key aspect of this is providing advice about initial and ongoing monitoring of NFM measures. This means it’s possible to understand not only the impact the measures have had, but also to influence and inform the design, planning and installation of future measures, on the same and other sites to maximise their effectiveness. We also gather data and carry out analysis on the measuring and monitoring taking place.
Footage released in March from some sites in the Upper Calder valley showed the quantities of water that NFM measures have had to deal with over the past winter, especially when storms Ciara and Dennis arrived on our shores. The video footage below was captured by University of Leeds researchers as part of work being carried out for the National Trust who have been installing NFM measures across some of their land holdings.
But we don’t just provide scientific advice and guidance on measuring, monitoring and installing NFM; through volunteers from the University of Leeds the measures are also being installed in different locations. One of the great things about NFM measures are that they can be installed by members of the community with appropriate guidance and management. Staff and student volunteers who live, study and work at the University of Leeds are involved with several NFM and tree planting schemes in Yorkshire.
Volunteering doesn’t just benefit the communities downstream of where the NFM measures have been installed, but the health and well-being of the volunteers as well. Over the last six months, volunteers from Australia, China, Malawi, Pakistan, Spain, UK and USA have helped build leaky dams and plant trees. The University set up the volunteering scheme to provide staff and students with an opportunity to get out and about, to meet new people and learn new skills all while doing valuable work in local communities near the university.
XiaoXiao Ma, a PhD student researching the poet John Clare, has volunteered on workdays organised by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust to install leaky dams and plant trees. While her research would not seem the most obvious fit with building leaky dams, she was keen to get first-hand experience of working on the land and connecting with nature and her research has subsequently benefited through her growing understanding of the things John Clare was writing about. She outlines two benefits she got from being a volunteer:
“When I work in the field, when I use tools such as a hammer, a rake, or a spade to interact with the land, I can feel the interconnectedness between humanity and nature. We live on the land. Our life relies on the land. We are interdependent
Being a volunteer enables me to make new friends. I met Lee Galston in my first wild work day event and since then we have been very good friends. On the day when we first me, we found we shared common interests such as literature, walking, and nature. We fit in well with each other.”
Xiaoxiao Ma, University of Leeds
Lee Galston who works in the University’s Accommodation Team has also attended volunteer training days and recalls one led by Don Vine from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust as he outlined the work to be done and ensured this was done safely and effectively:
“Don was incredible at what he did, and a huge part of why I’ve enjoyed coming along to the volunteering days. He was great at teaching us how to do the tasks on the day, but he was also generous with his vast knowledge of nature (trees and water, he told me, were his thing, he wasn’t too bothered about birds). Volunteering with him has genuinely changed the way I look at the natural world.
My favourite conversation we had with Don was actually the day Xiaoxiao and I met. She’s writing her PhD dissertation on the poet John Clare and he got really excited talking about Clare’s poetry, which is very nature centric. He told us that he and some friends would play a game of bingo based on Clare’s Shepherd’s Calendar, which has a poem for each month of the year, where they’d try to take a photo of anything they saw that was mentioned in that month’s poem.”
Lee Galston, University of Leeds
Student volunteers at University of Leeds, drawn from 18 different countries around the world, have contributed to installing natural flood management measures on several sites and tree planting projects that have been informed by researchers to ensure they are sited appropriately for the role they are to play. Some of the measures are part of high profile flood risk reduction schemes, such as the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme, developed and funded in response to past flood events.
While this news article was being written, we heard the very sad news that Don Vine, who coordinated the activities of many of the volunteers on Yorkshire Wildlife Trust NFM workdays, had suddenly passed away a few weeks previously. He led volunteer workdays that the University was involved with for many years and clearly made an incredible impression on the people he worked with as became clear when I contacted volunteers and volunteer coordinators to write this news piece. The leaky dams he built with volunteers, and the trees planted to help reduce flood risk to communities across the region, remain dotted across the landscape he clearly loved and felt passionate about.
News articles about different NFM projects that iCASP and University of Leeds have contributed to:
It would be hard to have missed the vast quantities of water across parts of the UK over the past few months, but when water isn’t so obvious other ways are needed to track where water is, how much there is and what it is doing.
Monitoring of water is routine and carried out by the
Environment Agency, water companies and local authorities, amongst others, and
covers rivers, water and groundwater levels, pumping stations, overflows,
sewage treatment works and rainfall levels. Many of these monitoring and
gauging stations feed their results in automatically from remote or
inaccessible locations meaning many measurements can be recorded without human
interaction. In many cases measurements are captured every 15 minutes and fed
back to the system daily; data as far back as 10 years ago is available for
some gauges and monitors. Some of the Environment Agency’s gauges have been
taking measurements for almost 40 years
This vast wealth of data is held and used by different organisations and, until recently, had never been combined to create a better understanding of what is happening in a region. Until that is, the Living with Water (LWW) Telemetry Integration project team collaborated through their partnership work to share various data sets.
The LWW partnership are working together with other
organisations in this Catchment Telemetry Integration project to better
understand what data is being routinely captured and where, and will be using
it to identify ways for its use in improved forecasting and responses.
Ultimately the data will be used to influence where future monitoring might be
most usefully installed to provide the most useful data.
The project team produced the first ‘combined data’ maps earlier this year which show the locations and types of all the monitoring stations across Hull and East Riding, including how long they have been operating for.
These maps are provisional results so far, but show the amount of monitoring already taking place across the region.
By sharing this data, and ultimately combining it with
decision-making tools, the project team hope to develop an early warning tool
that will help improve operational preparedness and improve response times at
the outset of a flood risk event.
iCASP’s Dr Jenny Armstrong and Dr Ben Rabb, working in collaboration with the Priestley International Centre for Climate have contributed to two chapters – one on the climate science focusing on the increased risks of flooding and droughts and the second suggesting ways in which we can work with natural processes to improve the resilience of households.
2019 was a record breaking year for both hot weather and autumn rainfall with the UK experiencing the hottest summer and warmest winter days ever recorded. This came on the back of the prolonged heatwave and joint hottest summer season on record in 2018. While insurance claims arising from too much water resulting in flooding are the stories we usually hear, there was also a surge in insurance subsidence claims as a result of the hot, dry conditions.
1.8 million people in the UK currently live in areas at significant risk from flooding, and this number is growing. If the current rate of warming continues the number of people at risk could rise to 2.6 million in as little as 20 years.
While our homes may be at risk, they are also a contributing factor to rising emissions. Heating and hot water in UK homes currently makes up 25% of total energy usage and 15% of greenhouse gas emissions, and more housing is planned.
The report highlights a range of actions that can be taken; from decarbonising our homes to reduce emissions to improving the resilience of households to the impacts of climate change. Suggested actions don’t just happen in our home, for example peatland preservation can not only sequester carbon helping reduce total emissions, but also reduce surface water runoff and in turn reduce flood risk.
Publication of the report marks the launch of the annual #ShowTheLove campaign from the Climate Coalition. Every February since 2015, people are encouraged to show the love for the things they want to protect from climate change, and showcase the ways they can create a safer world for future generations. Actions include making and sharing green hearts, writing to local MPs and starting conversations about climate change.
The Climate Coalition is the UK’s largest group of people dedicated to action against climate change. Along with their sister organisations Stop Climate Chaos Cymru and Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, they are a group of over 140 organisations — including the National Trust, Women’s Institute, Oxfam, and RSPB — and 22 million voices strong.
The cost of the 2015 Boxing Days floods was £47M in Calderdale alone, and the indirect knock-on effects to the regional economy was £179M. This is just from one flood event. In every flood event there is the immediate damage, loss and destruction which is often highly visible; the knock-on effects which are wide-reaching and significant are not always so obvious. With climate change we are likely to experience more extreme weather events that can lead to flooding, so we need to improve our resilience across society.
The Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector can be highly
vulnerable to flood impacts. Because a large proportion of the private sector
is made up of SMEs – about 99% of Yorkshire’s private sector is made up of SMEs
– flooding can have a massive impact across the wider region reaching areas
outside those that were flooded.
Our newest iCASP project seeks to address this issue through
supporting the SME sector to become more resilient to the impacts of flooding
so the negative impacts on the wider economy are reduced.
Currently there is a large knowledge gap about the impacts of flooding upon SME businesses; this lack of knowledge extends from the SMEs themselves, through insurers and lenders, local and sub-regional authorities to national government. The effect of this knowledge gap can mean SMEs not understanding how to protect themselves adequately, and insurers or lenders not understanding the risks and so not providing lending or insurance. At the government level this lack of knowledge can manifest as a lack of appropriate funding being included in businesses cases and missed opportunities for evidenced resource allocation and investment in preventive measures.
This project will bring together local authorities and the insurance sector to help them improve their understanding of the impacts of flooding upon SMEs, identify how they can support the sector to become better prepared for floods and help prioritise their responses if and when flooding occurs. A key aspect of the project will be a robust methodology that can be used to assess the direct and indirect costs of flooding. This will enable local authorities (LAs) to carry out future flood assessments and subsequently develop evidenced and robust business plans for funding to support better responses for any future flooding.
“The Leeds City Region Flood Review was published in 2016 and developed in partnership between West Yorkshire Combined Authority/LEP, local authorities, Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency. The Review and its 19 recommendations aim to implement a more consistent and effective approach to both flood risk management and mitigation, and responding to future flood events across the City Region. Recommendation 3 of the Review relates directly to this project as it confirms the urgent need for a robust regional formula for modelling the indirect economic impact of flooding”.
The ability of lenders and insurers to accurately assess and understand the likely risks of flooding will enable them to understand the right level of risk, develop new products and properly price the current products unlocking access to them for SMEs who may currently be unable to do so. An improved understanding of the effectiveness of different protection and resilience measures could also boost an increase in lending for preventive purposes and thus better uptake of these important measures to improve resilience.
“The work package on insurance will cover an important gap as it provides valuable information to insurers/lenders and surveyors to increase our understanding of SME flood risk. When I hold my regular meetings with insurers, they are bought into the concept of resilience, but cannot move forward meaningfully to acknowledge it without more information and evidence. They want to understand from SMEs what is the real financial impact of a flood. But also, what difference in financial terms has, or could, a resilient strategy make to the cost of the claim. The tool that the project will co-create to assess the effectiveness of resilience measures will be key to identifying the most beneficial strategies SMEs can take to protect themselves”.
Insurance broker specialising in flood risk
As with all iCASP projects this has been co-designed and will be carried out in close collaboration with partners and stakeholders. Co-creation ensures efforts are joined-up to support widespread uptake in the Yorkshire region, and nationally, to spread the benefits of closing this current gap in our knowledge. This exciting new project will push the limits of our understanding on the economic impacts of flooding on SMEs and the effectiveness of property flood resilience measures. And, in collaboration with the City of York Pathfinder project “Yorkshire Future Flood Resilience”, it will work to improve the uptake of Property Flood Resilience across Yorkshire and the UK.
At times when we experience floods, such as those currently devastating people’s homes and businesses in parts of Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, it is very common to see people attempting to distill the problem down to a single cause. In complex hydrological systems there is no sense in taking this simplistic approach; rather the whole catchment needs to be considered and we need to think about how we make entire catchments more resilient to extreme events. This is one reason for the ’i‘ in the NERC-funded Yorkshire Integrated Catchment Solutions Programme (iCASP). We work on the understanding that what happens in one area of the catchment affects other parts of the catchment because it is a whole system.
Our work looks at how processes integrate across the entire catchment and while finding solutions to environmental problems we also seek ways to address multiple problems at once, thereby delivering value for money. It isn’t just physical elements of catchment management, there’s a human element too: we work closely with partners and stakeholders on all projects to build relationships and trust and to support organisations to work together in confidence to maximise beneficial outcomes.
Flood Forecasting, and Drought & Flood Risk Mitigation are two of our six workstreams that determine the work we fund. We draw upon the research of several universities in the region including the University of Leeds, University of Sheffield and the University of York to address problems that organisations across Yorkshire are seeking to tackle. This ranges from trying to improve the ability of local councils to respond to weather forecasts by improving the advice provided in a forecast, or implementing measures that slow the flow of water across the landscape so it takes longer to move into the rivers and doesn’t contribute to sudden peak flows.
Restoring the peatland in the upper reaches of a catchment means that rainfall there takes longer to move through and into rivers downstream. Our Peatland Restoration project has developed guidance for practitioners and managers to help their decision-making as to the best restoration techniques to return the system to its normal functionality of water storage and slowing downstream flow. An added benefit of this kind of restoration is that functioning peatland acts as a sink/store locking up carbon that might otherwise be driving climate change.
Natural Flood Management: modelling, mapping and monitoring
Several of our other
projects are on the same theme as this: using natural processes to slow and
store water moving through the landscape to avoid the mass flows and peaks that
cause problems. There are many Natural Flood Management (NFM) pilot projects
throughout Yorkshire funded by government. Our iCASP projects are supporting
these by working with partner organisations to develop modelling, mapping and
We use computer models to understand which parts of a catchment contribute greater quantities of water into a watercourse than other parts, and to understand the role that landscape features – both natural and human-made – may play in this process either slowing or storing water. Our modelling expertise is currently being used in our Calderdale NFM project to understand how three tributaries contribute to water flows further downstream.
Combining rainfall data and
high resolution terrain data, combined with the knowledge gained from site
visits means we can create ‘Opportunity Maps’ that allow an identification of
what the current landscape management means for flood risk and what might be
done in future.
Once developed, Opportunity Maps allow us to identify locations where NFM interventions such as tree planting, aerating soil, buffer strips or leaky dams may best be sited for maximum effect. In the case of our Don Catchment project, we work with the land managers to identify which interventions could be installed by volunteers, what interventions would be best and where our mapping allows us to identify the additional impacts these interventions may play. Many NFM interventions can serve multiple purposes; they may not only slow down the flow of water across the landscape, but they might also improve water quality or provide valuable habitat for wildlife, contributing to improved biodiversity and species richness in an area.
“We feel very privileged to have benefited from our involvement in iCASP, as it has given us access to expertise that has resulted in opportunity maps that are guiding our decision-making in relation to our Hidden Heritage Secret Stream (HHSS) project. These maps identify locations in the landscape where we can have the most impact, and they have also helped highlight the types and locations of NFM interventions that not only slow the flow of runoff, but also reduce diffuse pollution and increase ecological connectivity across the landscape. Our team is using the maps to identify sites for investigation on the ground, and they have been very useful when engaging with our partners and landowners.”
Ed Shaw, Director Don Catchment Rivers Trust
Monitoring the impact and effectiveness of NFM interventions is critical; both to being able to identify what impact is delivered, but also in being able to make the case for funding such measures and for their ongoing maintenance. A key aim of another of our Natural Flood Management projects is to improve the monitoring capability of those using NFM so they are able to carry out rigorous monitoring to contribute to the evidence base for this kind of flood risk intervention.
In our Payment for Outcomes project we are working with the National Trust to build NFM measures into their payment for outcomes trial. Farmers on some of the Trust’s tenanted farms will receive payment for the environmental outcomes they achieve, and this work will eventually inform Defra’s new Environmental Land Management Scheme and show how NFM can be integrated within this.
To maximise all the benefits of this work, we’ve developed a Natural Flood Management Community of Practice (CoP) to bring together people working on NFM to share skills, experience and best practice, build capacity and discuss challenges and opportunities. The CoP meetings draw upon the expertise we are deploying in the NFM projects we work on and also brings together people from across the region – and increasingly from beyond it too – to understand how best to manage their areas of land in the most appropriate ways for our future climate.
Slowing the flow of water through a catchment, and the measures put in place to do this are just one aspect of the measures we are working on. As demonstrated in the last week, at times rainfall is extreme and even if there are lots of interventions in place upstream, the sheer quantity of water is overwhelming, so we also work on improving flood forecasting. Our Enhanced Surface Water Flood Forecasts project worked with a range of partners to trial new forecasting software to assess whether it helped flood risk managers and emergency responders in the decision-making processes they go through in a flood event.
“In response to Defra’s Surface Water Management Action Plan, the Environment Agency and Met Office are scoping a new capability for sharing with responders very short range and rapid update forecasting (“nowcasting”) for the type of rainfall that causes surface water flooding. The Enhanced Surface Water Flood Forecasts project final report, including feedback from the incident response workshop, has provided valuable information and user response insight for the discovery phase of this project and we expect that continued engagement with the iCASP team will continue to be beneficial for understanding user needs and exploring piloting opportunities.”
Graeme Boyce, Project Executive, Flood Forecasting Centre
Our Living With Water Catchment Telemetry Integration project, which the Living with Water Partnership are undertaking in Hull, will bring together remote monitoring data of water flows carried out by several organisations with decision-making software to create a tool that will help deliver operational preparedness for events such as those we have seen in the last week and identify optimal locations for future monitoring. Combining such data collected by these organisations has not been done at this scale before; this way of joint working will be extremely powerful in making higher levels of knowledge available to decision makers and first responders about actions to take and deployment of flood defences.
Our newest project – Bridging the knowledge gap to boost SME resilience – starting later this month will be working on ways to build the resilience of the SME sector. Here in Yorkshire, much of the private sector is made up of SMEs who can be very vulnerable to flooding and the knock–on effects to the regional economy of a flood event can be significant and far-reaching. The project will work with local authorities and the insurance sector to develop a robust methodology for assessing the direct and indirect costs of floods on the SME sector so they are able to tailor their flood assessments and responses appropriately. By providing detailed information on the effectiveness of resilience measures and risk reduction activities, flood risk can be properly priced and managed by SMEs and appropriate support can be given to SMEs to make them more resilient and able to reduce their risks. Local Authorities will be better able to carry out future flood assessments, lobby for additional funds to better prepare for future flooding and, in the event of a flood, prioritise their response in a consistent and timely manner.
This just a snapshot of some of the work we are undertaking to produce solutions to water challenges across Yorkshire, the UK and globally. Our work extends right across catchments, from high and remote peatlands where some of the water that floods peoples’ homes begins its journey, to the streets where we live and the monitoring and forecasting that takes place to try to improve the way we respond, the advice given and the deployment of measures to reduce flood risk.
“Over time, we are increasing the number and diversifying the types of flood management techniques that will reduce peak flows downstream providing new tools to support farmers, villages, towns and cities susceptible to floods.”
Joe Holden, Director, iCASP
The environment is a complex system and we need to work at many different levels to tackle integrated problems. With climate change increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events, it is clear that we need to continue to invest in ways to address resilience and to use a wide range of solutions across the landscape to tackle flooding, rather than think about each component of the system in isolation.
With much of the map of England lit up with flood warnings and alerts this morning, this serves as a timely reminder about the importance of ongoing work into flood forecasting.
The recent iCASP project on Enhanced Surface Water Flood Forecasts (ESWFF) set out to try to enhance the forecasts that are issued to help decision making in the run up to, and during, a flood event. A wide range of people utilise these flood forecasts including the emergency services, flood planners in local authorities, water utilities and the Environment Agency.
The culmination of iCASP’s ESWFF project was a mock incident response workshop in April that used data from a previous flood incident to see if enhanced forecasts would lead to different decision making. Involving many different flood responders in the workshop gave useful insight into the value placed on different kinds of information, how decision makers use different pieces of information and how the information could be further improved for clarity and ease of use.
Several recommendations came out of the project, including how to better support local authorities in their responses to surface water flooding, and further development and testing of user-centric surface water forecast information.
The executive summary, final report and a flyer about the project can all be freely downloaded:
iCASP will be involved with the new ‘Yorkshire Future Flood Resilience Pathfinder’ project led by City of York Council which won Government funding last week.
The project involves several iCASP partners including City of York Council and the Environment Agency and will encourage greater uptake of property flood resilience (PFR) measures across Yorkshire. It will draw upon existing projects and initiatives tackling flooding in the region and share best practice and provide training.
One of the more exciting aspects of the project will be the creation of a physical demonstration site in the form of a community hub and learning lab at Wilberforce College, Hull. The learning lab will have exhibits, physical models and demonstration PFR measures used to deliver training and awareness raising to a broad range of other projects, communities and people.
The Living with Water Partnership, who recently started an iCASP project on telemetry integration, will co-develop the learning lab and continue its management and delivery beyond the end of the pathfinder funding.
iCASP’s role in this pathfinder project will be to review the current awareness and adoption of PFR measures in communities and businesses across Yorkshire, and also across local authorities, planners and other professionals who promote, procure, design and deliver PFR interventions. This will take place at the outset of the pathfinder in September 2019, and then be revisited towards the end of the project to understand the reach and impact the pathfinder project and its interventions have had, and to make recommendations for future work and opportunities to develop the programme further.
This week has seen the 12th anniversary of the 2007 floods which impacted across swathes of the UK and affected villages, towns and cities across Yorkshire. It is timely to look at some of the measures put in place since then to alleviate flooding in the future. Natural flood management (NFM) has had some coverage in the media recently with both the BBC and ITV reporting stories that cover activities iCASP projects are supporting.
Countryfile recently visited Hardcastle Crags near to Hebden Bridge to find out more about leaky dams and how they will help tackle flooding in the future. The NFM work in Hardcastle is as a direct result of the 2015 Boxing Day floods. iCASP has been working with the Environment Agency, JBA and the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust, amongst others, on monitoring and measuring the range of benefits of NFM measures such as the leaky dams seen in the programme. The main focus of iCASP’s work has been developing approaches to measure whether or not the dams work to deliver flood alleviation. A future focus of the work will be to help quantify the additional benefits of these types of interventions – such as more varied habitat for wildlife, improved water quality and enhanced well-being for visitors to the area – which will be vital for making the business case for future natural flood management measures. Find out more about the Hardcastle Crags leaky dams from Countryfile
Natural flood management encompasses a range of different measures, not just leaky dams. An ITV news report on tree planting in Hebden Bridge mentioned how this work will draw upon the expertise of iCASP later in the year to understand the impact of trees already planted. iCASP will be working on the project to help identify how features, such as trees and hedges, can absorb heavy rainfall and contribute to alleviating flooding, as well as investigating how different soil types and land covers also contribute to flooding. Decisions on where trees and hedges should be planted in the future, for optimal benefit, will be informed by a rainfall-runoff model developed at the University of Leeds. Read the ITV report
These NFM activities rely upon a range of different partners getting involved. A diagram showing the range of different partner organisations, drawing from the voluntary, charitable, private, public and regulatory sectors, has been developed to give a flavour of the interactions in these activities in the Calderdale area. View the interactive diagram
This week iCASP hosted a workshop for a range of organisations across Yorkshire involved with flood preparedness and response, and national organisations responsible for producing flood forecasts and alerts. The workshop was run to test out how useful it could be to combine probabilistic rainfall forecasts (Met Office Global and Regional Ensemble Prediction System, MOGREPS) with high-resolution hydrodynamic modelling (JBA’s JFlow®) to provide localised surface water flood forecasts.
A mock incident response situation – Exercise Augustus – was run using JBA’s Exercise Management System (JEMS), which presented representatives from Yorkshire’s Local Authorities, flood action group leaders, Environment Agency, emergency services and Yorkshire Water with the ‘new’ forecasts based on a real flooding incident in Leeds to see how they responded to the information they were given, and what decisions and actions they would take as a result.
This kind of incident response scenario planning gives us an understanding of the kinds of information that incident responders find most useful in helping them make their decisions – both in advance of an incident and also as the incident is unfolding.
The participants worked in four groups so that their thoughts on the information they were presented with, and the rationale for their decision-making, could be understood and captured. A report will be produced summarising the different responses of the groups that will allow iCASP partners to better understand the ways to present information to flood responders, and which kinds of information elicit the most appropriate responses to the situation.
The flood that Exercise Augustus was modelled on took place in Garforth, Leeds on August 22 2015.
iCASP convened a workshop with Leeds City Council and the Environment Agency on 17th April to bring together a range of stakeholders to look at flood risk management in Leeds, for the next spending period, 2021 to 27.
The stakeholders, including infrastructure providers, representatives of local authorities and councils, water companies, academics and others working in catchment management, were not just focused on future flood risk management schemes but other infrastructure or growth ambitions for Leeds City Region.
This meant an exciting outcome of the workshop was identifying future activity and investments where multiple benefits might be delivered, not just the reduction of flood risk. All stakeholders at the workshop highlighted the importance of early integration across organisations to achieve these common aspirations.
The next step in this process is for ideas for flood risk management schemes to be submitted for funding support from central government – hopefully with a clear outline of the multiple benefits that they can help achieve.