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Government 'all talk' on natural flood defences

Flood

The government has been accused of failing to invest in natural flood defences despite its promises, as the first named storm of the season hit the UK.

Storm Angus saw winds of more than 80mph batter the South this weekend before moving away into the North Sea on Sunday (20 November).

However, weather warnings remain in place across the UK today (21 November) due to heavy rainfall, with an amber warning for the South West – which experienced 50mm of rainfall during the storm, impacting river levels.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) revealed that although the government pledged to fund natural flood management defences after last winter’s floods – including £700M announced in this year’s budget for “innovative” flood defences – so far there is no funding earmarked specifically for natural flood management.

“Last winter’s floods were a powerful reminder that we need to work with nature to reduce flood risk – and ministers wholeheartedly agreed,” said Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole.

“But so far it’s been all talk and no action – the government has failed to spend a single extra penny on natural flood management.”

The environmental campaign group, alongside nature restoration charity Rewilding Britain, is calling on the chancellor to announce at least £20M for natural flood defences in the upcoming Autumn Statement.

“With one in six properties in the UK currently at risk of flooding, a ratio that will only increase as our climate changes over coming decades, it is time to rethink our approach to managing flood risk,” said Rewilding Britain director Helen Meech.

“There is now significant evidence to show that rewilding can substantially reduce flood risk downstream, protecting communities at a fraction of the cost of traditional flood defences, whilst also delivering improved water quality and space for nature to thrive. 

“As government considers new approaches to management of Britain’s natural environment post-Brexit, we feel it is high time we invested in making space for water, for the benefit of both people and wildlife.”

Defra stressed that the government had contributed around £4.1M to natural flood management demonstration projects in Holnicote (Somerset), Upper Derwent (Derbyshire) and in Pickering (North Yorkshire), which is thought to have escaped damage during last winter’s flooding due, in part, to soft engineering solutions such as using heather bale dams, planting 44ha of woodland and building timber bunds. 

“We’re committed to better protecting the country from flooding and natural flood management plays an important role in our strategy,” said a spokesperson for Defra.

“We’re spending a record £2.5bn on flood defences to better protect 300,000 more homes by 2021 and many of these projects are already using natural flood management measures.”

The findings come after MPs called for an overhaul of flood management in England earlier this month, which included more investment in natural flood management schemes.

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