Extreme weather and flooding are becoming more and more typical of what we can expect from warmer and wetter winters. Scotland now has a Flood Risk Management Plan, and SEPA is working closely with farmers to consider how rural land management can help reduce flood risk, and how SEPA can help farmers with their repair and recovery work following recent flooding events.
The storms in recent months provide a clear demonstration of the need to take a strategic, risk-based approach to flood risk management. Scotland’s Flood Risk Management Strategies, recently published by SEPA, aim to reduce the devastating and costly impact of flooding in Scotland.
The Strategies will greatly improve and co-ordinate the efforts of all organisations that help tackle flooding, and focus the work of these organisations where the risk of flooding and benefits of investment are greatest.
Natural flood management – using the natural environment to help store and slow the flow of water – has an important part to play in reducing the impacts of flooding. But it is only part of the answer, and is unlikely to reduce the impact of the more extreme events we are experiencing. In preparing the Flood Risk Management Strategies, SEPA assessed the potential of the natural landscape to help manage flooding, and we have worked with local authorities to make them aware of what contribution it can make to their efforts on the ground. For example, we need to consider the benefits of planting trees in upper catchments and how we might make use of flood plains to store flood water, alongside more traditional engineered defences and improved awareness and advance warning, to reduce and manage flood risk and help make the agricultural sector more resilient. There are many ways to manage flooding, including natural management, and they need to work together coherently within the catchment.
Does dredging play a role in flood risk management?
Dredging can have a role to play in flood risk management, but carried out in the wrong way and in the wrong place can result in significant environmental damage, increased flooding and erosion downstream, and little to no local benefit to flood risk. Where dredging does have localised flood risk benefits, it is only ever a temporary measure as the material that is removed is often naturally replaced in a short period of time.
Studies have shown that in larger rivers dredging may be of minimal benefit in reducing flood water levels. For example, a study of the River Tay at Perth showed that the removal of 27,000 cubic metres of gravel and sediment would only lead to a 60 millimetre reduction in the height of the river surface in a big flood. During a major flood event that extra capacity could be replaced in just 14 seconds. So it is essential that we properly assess the benefit of dredging for flood risk management, and don’t consider it a quick or simple fix. Flood plains can hold far greater quantities of water than a river channel ever could, and no amount of dredging could ever stop a river from flooding.
Helping the recovery and repair process
The recent severe floods have been devastating for many communities, businesses, householders and farmers. We appreciate that there is a lot of work that needs to be carried out to help get things working again, and in some cases significant repair work will be necessary. As a regulator, SEPA wants to be as supportive and helpful as possible to people undertaking repair and recovery work, much of which can be done without authorisation from, or even contacting, SEPA. This includes works to repair or replace structures, like for like, that have failed or washed away; removing vegetation, fallen trees or litter; and dredging small straightened ditches or within closed culverts. We have provided some advice on ‘Repair work after floods’ on our web site. More significant work will need a registration or licence, and we operate a fast track process to ensure rapid authorisation if required in emergency situations. But if there is any doubt about regulations and remedial activity landowners should contact SEPA for advice.
SEPA’s flood forecasting and warning service provides advance information on the likelihood of flooding across Scotland through Floodline. This service is extensively used by farmers and land managers to reduce the impact of floods on their activities. You can even sign up for flood warnings to be sent directly to you free of charge.
Working in partnership for Scotland
Scotland’s Flood Risk Management Strategies were developed through a partnership approach involving all 32 local authorities, Scottish Water and other organisations with a responsibility or interest in managing flooding. We are continuing to work in partnership to help implement the strategies, and manage flood risk across Scotland. This includes ongoing discussions with representatives of the farming industry to consider how natural flood management can contribute to reducing flood risk, and the potential to review the regulatory framework to better enable land management activities which help reduce flood risk. SEPA is also working alongside the Scottish Government, NFUS and local authorities on the Agricultural Wet Weather Working Group in responding to the damage sustained by farms as a result of recent flooding events. Working together, through constructive partnerships, we can all help manage flood risk, and reduce the impacts of flooding, in future.
We know that December has been the wettest on record in Scotland, with 50 of our gauging stations recording their highest ever levels. The Met Office has indicated that these extreme floods are more typical of what we might face from a warmer and wetter winter season. Many people have experienced or witnessed significant disruption, damage and heartache across large parts of Scotland. SEPA staff are here to provide any help and advice that people need, including taking forward discussions with the farming community about the role they can play in reducing future impacts.