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Fears that homes and businesses across Wales could become uninsurable because of increasing flood risks have been voiced by the Association of British Insurers.
But now Welsh-led climate change project FUTUREforest, run by Forestry Commission Wales, believes ‘soft engineering’ – working with nature - in the uplands can help to reduce those risks.
And it will be showcasing its raft of innovative, environment friendly prevention measures at its major International Conference in Cardiff next week – just days ahead of the ABI’s own conference ‘Fighting Flood Risk’, the following week in London.
Hundreds of delegates from across Europe will be converging on the Welsh capital to share all the very latest information, knowledge and technology in flood control and other natural risks.
The conference ‘FUTUREforest – helping Europe meet the challenge of Climate Change’ at the Pierhead, Cardiff, on Thursday 18 November will be previewing what could be some of the most influential new guidelines on climate change and forest management this year.
More than 400,000 homes and businesses across Wales are at risk from flooding – but researchers in Wales are trialing exciting new ways in which the nation’s forests can help reduce downstream flooding, as well as locking away millions of tons of carbon dioxide.
Much of the research is looking at soft engineering – working with nature to trap flood water in the uplands and slow its passage downstream, to the benefit of vulnerable villages and towns.
This low cost, low impact technology could work alongside existing expensive, hard engineering – barrages and flood barriers – to protect people from the increased flood risk posed by climate change.
Small woody debris dams, new woodland creation and other flood management techniques in the uplands can help to reduce the kind of flooding that has caused millions of pounds worth of damage across Wales.
“We have already begun to discover much about the way the woodlands of Europe can help us to combat climate change,” said Mike Over, of Forestry Commission Wales, which runs the FUTUREforest project in Wales.
“The basic idea is that trees, undergrowth and dead wood increase the hydraulic ‘roughness’ of the floodplain, slowing down the passage of flood flows.
“The net effect is to delay and reduce the size of the flood peak, especially important as we begin to experience wetter winters and more intense rain storms.”
Methods currently being trialled at a site near Abergavenny include the recreation of a series of natural, small woody dams along upland streams, which allow the flow of water in normal conditions but slow it down at times of spate.
Each small dam can delay the passage of the flood peak by between one and two minutes and, in the right location, can collectively retain significant volumes of flood water upstream.
Careful floodplain and riverside planting – in many cases recreating ecologically rich, wet woodland habitat – can also help to improve water quality and benefit freshwater life.
“Traditionally we in Wales have tried to keep all our watercourses clear of trees and branches for fear that they could be a barrier to fish movement and block downstream bridges during floods.
"However, woody dams are now widely viewed as being beneficial to fish and, by careful site selection to avoid bridge blocking, we have found that they can make a significant contribution to holding back flood waters and mitigating downstream flooding,” said Mike.
“There appears to be considerable scope for using woodland to reduce flood risk and sediment delivery across a range of scales, although success depends on better integration with other land uses as part of a whole-catchment approach to sustainable flood and water management.”
The research project at Abergavenny is continuing to monitor the effectiveness of woody dams in delaying different sized flood peaks.
Contact: Mike Over, FUTUREforest, Wales project manager, on 0300 068 0069, or Guy Pargeter, Taliesin Communications on 01970 832375.
Editor’s note: FUTUREforest is a three year INTERREG 1VC programme funded by the EU and the Welsh Assembly Government and delivered in Wales by Forestry Commission Wales. It aims to identify the threats, weaknesses and strengths of Europe’s forest as they face up to climate change; developing best management techniques to guide policy makers and stakeholders.
It also aims to improve and adapt regional and local forest management policies and practices focusing on water balance, soil, biodiversity, timber and non-timber forest products, air quality including carbon sequestration, and natural risk like fires, pests and pathogens.
The objective is to improve the effectiveness of regional development policies and contribute to the economic modernisation and increased competitiveness of Europe through exchange, sharing and transfer of policy experience, knowledge and good practices in woodland management.
The project will provide political decision makers and other stakeholders in European regions with the knowledge, tools and approaches to enable effective forestry/regional development policies and forest management practices.
It also intends to identify opportunities resulting from climate change including increased biomass production - and therefore carbon sequestration - due to changes in rainfall pattern and higher temperatures.
The partners include Auvergne, France (biodiversity); Brandenburg, Germany (knowledge transfer); Bulgaria (soil protection); Catalonia (natural risks); Latvia (timber production); Slovakia (carbon sequestration)
Forestry Commission Wales is responsible for FUTUREforest in Wales. It is the government department responsible for forestry policy and manages the 320,000 acres (130,000 ha) of public forests owned by the Welsh Assembly Government. More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on: www.forestry.gov.uk/wales