Community Views on Natural Flood Management

Flooding on a floodplain © Bruce Shortland

Flooding is an issue which affects people across Hampshire, but could nature-based solutions be the answer? Hear the key findings of recent research into the views of local residents.

As our beautiful chalk streams wind through the landscape, detours can be a natural part of their journeys. The places where they overflow become temporary wetlands that support wildlife and leave the soil rich in nutrients. Over time, however, these floodplains have become dotted with human settlements where the waters are less welcome. With a growing population and a shifting climate, could the joy of streamside living one day be a thing of the past?

If you explore ways to address this problem, you're likely to come across the term 'Natural Flood Management'. Also called 'NFM' or 'Working with Natural Processes', this approach aims to reduce flood risk through nature-based measures like planting trees, creating storage ponds, and improving absorption on farmland. Such solutions have the potential to offer further environmental benefits, from improving biodiversity and water quality to reducing bank erosion. 

As such, while NFM measures are already making a difference in Hampshire, organisations like the Wildlife Trust are exploring if their use could be expanded. Earlier this year we helped fellow Watercress and Winterbournes partner Hampshire County Council to do just that, using an online questionnaire to learn how local residents feel about NFM being used in their area. Join us as we examine some highlights from the results!

Volunteers implementing natural flood management measures

Volunteers implementing natural flood management measures

Key findings

Most of the 78 respondents had heard of NFM measures like creating wetlands, installing leaky dams, and returning streams to their natural meander. 87% describe their opinion of NFM as 'positive' or 'very positive', while 81% view it as an effective approach for managing flood risk. More than three quarters see it as a better option than hard engineering like pipes or concrete barriers.

However, over half of the respondents rate their understanding of how NFM works as average or below. Many voiced a desire for more information about the different measures, and evidence of their effectiveness. Moreover, some suggested that both NFM and hard engineering may be needed in certain areas, particularly if urban development on floodplains continues.

While 90% of the respondents associate NFM with environmental organisations and national authorities, many feel that decision-making should include local councils, landowners, and communities. 87% approved of NFM being used in their area, citing the potential for increased biodiversity, protected heritage, and decreased flood risk. This would be contingent on funding and evidence of effectiveness.

Several local landowners also shared their thoughts: in total, 70% would consider allowing NFM on their land, while the remaining 30% feel unsure. The chance to increase biodiversity and reduce flooding, both on their own sites and elsewhere, are common motivations. Evidence of effectiveness, availability of funding, and maintenance requirements would affect their views.

Otter © Andy Rouse/2020VISION

Otter © Andy Rouse/2020VISION

What's next?

The information gathered in this questionnaire will serve several important purposes. It will be a key source for an MSc in Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management being undertaken by Vicki Westall, Strategic Flood and Water Management Co‐ordinator for Hampshire County Council. Vicki will use this research to inform her ongoing work to tackle flooding in our region.

The insights will also be hugely helpful to the wider Watercress and Winterbournes scheme, particularly in relation to our Natural Flood Management project. We'll be putting together resources on flooding around our chalk streams, and the measures that could tackle it, so local residents can make informed decisions about the role NFM could play in their areas.

Of course, as with all questionnaires, some sampling bias may be at play: those with an interest in environmental issues are more likely to respond. Nonetheless, we're grateful to everyone who shared their thoughts with us; understanding your views helps us to support you. Stay tuned for more news, and send further thoughts about how NFM could be used in your area to the contact below.

Contact the Flood and Water Management team

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