Durngate Flood Alleviation Scheme must be careful not to do more harm than good

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust manages Winnall Moors Nature Reserve for wildlife and for the community. The nature reserve is a beautiful and rare mosaic of water meadow, woodland and chalk stream, right in the heart of Winchester. Home to some iconic species including otters, water voles, marsh marigold and kingfisher. The nature reserve also plays an important role in natural flood management, food production and carbon sequestration.

In 2014 and 2020 Winchester was flooded in the winter months, and this summer Winchester City Council began Phase Two of their flood alleviation scheme. If you have visited Winnall Moors recently you may have seen some of the ongoing works to install sluice gates near the reserve entrance, in order to manage the flow of water through the city. This will cause parts of the nature reserve to flood to a greater depth and over a wider area when the sluice gates are operated.

The city council have committed to only allowing the nature reserve to flood when necessary and in a carefully controlled manner. The Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust urges the Council to make sure that they follow through on this promise, to protect the precious wildlife and habitats found at Winnall Moors. While the Trust support the scheme, flooding too often or at the wrong time of year (particularly in spring or summer) could cause damage to the site including die-off of plants, birds’ nests being flooded and species like the water vole losing their homes. The scheme could have a detrimental impact on the ecology of the Moors, which are protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The Wildlife Trust has been working closely with Natural England and the Environment Agency to ensure guidance is followed, that will monitor and protect the features of the SSSI and SAC.

Rachel Remnant, Reserves Officer at Winnall Moors Nature Reserve, said:

“The Wildlife Trust has managed Winnall Moors through three major flood events, and we want to ensure that our expertise is respected, to safeguard the rare and special fauna and fauna that depend on the nature reserve. We also want to ensure that flood waters can be drained as quickly as possible so repairs can be made, and paths are reopened for people who love this oasis in the city.”

Flood alleviation in cities must include natural flood management schemes, reconnecting rivers with their floodplains and working with the entire catchment of the river. This is why, when the Trust took on a wider area of Winnall Moors in 2006, the river was naturalised, allowing it to flood and wet the reserve. This action created habitats for wildlife once lost from the site and slowed the flow of water in the surrounding area. With flooding likely to become more frequent as the effects of climate change are felt, natural solutions must be considered with the same weight as hard engineering options in order to decrease the intensity and effects of floods.

The Trust will continue working with Winchester City Council on this matter, ensuring the flood alleviation scheme works for both the city and its residents as well as the wildlife that relies on the nature reserve.

If you would like to find out more about the Trust’s work on wetlands including natural flood alleviation please visit our website.

Water Vole

Water Vole by Russ Valentine