There are many measures the Government can use to mitigate the risk of flooding and coastal erosion in England, especially when considered across an entire catchment. These include building and maintaining traditional defence schemes and using more natural processes, commonly known as natural flood management.
These natural processes, where appropriately designed and situated, play an important role by slowing the flow of flood water as it moves downstream. These processes can include tree planting, leaky debris dams and peatland restoration on upper slopes, flood washlands and river re-connection mid-catchment and management and creation of coastal marsh and sand dune systems in coastal areas.
Floodplains, and many washlands provide a natural and expected space to receive excess water when watercourses are subject to flood conditions. Outside of flood conditions these lands can provide opportunities for food production and/or useful spaces for wildlife and recreation.
However, there are additional spaces, including farmland, where intervention is needed to store flood water temporarily away from watercourses, when it will help to protect a community or critical infrastructure further downstream. Under the Water Resources Act 1991, Risk Management Authorities, including the Environment Agency, may, where appropriate, make payments to the landowner to allow for such land to be used as part of a scheme to create an area of temporary flood storage. The Environment Agency already has around 500 such arrangements with landowners around England.
Furthermore there is also a funding mechanism through Countryside Stewardship grants to encourage making space for water. This grant aims to help water flow in a winding course across floodplains, flooding temporarily to restore river and wetland habitats. It will also reduce the risk of high energy flows and soil erosion, and allow water to drain freely back into the river channel.
Finally, the new Environmental Land Management scheme will roll out from late 2024. The scheme will incentivise the reduction in and protection from environmental hazards. To deliver this public good it could pay farmers and other land managers for land management practices that can help reduce the impacts of, and enhance resilience to, flooding, for example incentivising temporary flood storage areas.