Scientists reveal deterioration of Britain's floodplains

Nine tenths of Britain's floodplains are no longer in their natural state, according to a new study carried out by researchers at the University of Salford. Their report, commissioned and published by Co-op Insurance, highlights the importance of land management for reducing flooding in towns and cities, which will get worse unless a lot more is done to reverse damage done to natural floodplains, the authors of the report say.

Co-op Insurance tasked Salford University with carrying out the research into the causes of flooding and its impact on communities in the wake of Storm Desmond, which hit Cumbria in December 2015. The resulting report says 90% of floodplains across the country no longer function naturally, including 74% which have been either lost or modified by encroachment from man-made developments.

One of the report's authors, the University of Salford's Dr George Heritage, said the speed at which floodplains have deteriorated is a cause for great concern: "Given the fact that UK weather will consist of more storms in years to come, if we don’t act now to restore these floodplains, what we saw with Storm Desmond in Cumbria will be a more frequent occurrence. We conducted this research as we really wanted evidence to inform thinking across the industry and get to the root cause of the problem, which has impacted so many people’s lives."

Co-op Insurance has released its own data on flood damage to coincide with the Salford University research. The average claim for buildings and property damage following Storm Desmond amounted to £44,000, the Co-op says.

Director of products at Co-op Insurance, James Hillon, commented: “Our research shows that three fifths (58%) of people affected by floods believe they’re happening more frequently. We’ve seen first-hand the devastating effects that floods can have on peoples’ lives and so we want to take action and try to help to reduce the impact of flooding and support those affected. 

“We commissioned this research to understand the underlying causes of flooding. I’m delighted to announce that off that back of this, we’ve enrolled flood aid causes in Carlisle into our membership scheme. And, in addition, we’re going to ask our members to vote for a cause in Cumbria, one of the areas most impacted by flooding recently which we will commit to fundraising for."

Government acknowledged the importance of a 'whole-catchment' approach to flood risk management in its National Flood Resilience Review published in September 2016. The review is very light on detail on how this will be done, however, apart from stating that £15m will be dedicated to funding catchment management with some of its £2.5bn capital flood protection funding including natural environment measures designed to hold flood waters better. The House of Commons' Environment Food and Rural Affiars Committee has criticised government's plans, demanding more to be done to provide national and local agencies with evidence of the effectiveness of whole-catchment approaches and more detail to be released on how much of the £2.5bn will be spent on this.

In its response to the EFRA Committee's latest report, government said: "We agree that it is important to build up more evidence to support the catchment based approach. Defra, the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Forestry Commission are strengthening their approach to catchment level modelling and flood mitigation. This will ensure that government, communities, businesses and individuals are better informed, and empowered to put appropriate risk management and resilience measures in place."