DredgingWIDESPREAD dredging could make flooding in some communities worse in future – not better – according to a new report published by The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) and endorsed by the Blueprint for Water coalition of environmental NGOs which includes the Angling Trust.

Far from advocating dredging as a panacea, the report – published by independent flood management experts CIWEM, and backed by a range of organisations – suggests solely relying on dredging can even make some communities more vulnerable to the risk of flooding. Instead, the report’s authors call for leadership promoting sustainable measures to control flooding crises, rather than politically-motivated, knee-jerk reactions.

CIWEM is an independent professional body. Nigel Hendley, CIWEM’s Interim Chief Executive, said: “Flood risk management is an increasingly challenging balance of measures and decisions which require a sound evidence base and expert judgment. Dredging can be successfully employed to reduce flood impact under certain conditions, and alongside other measures to protect river ecology, but it can also have serious impacts on downstream flood risk so requires very careful consideration as an option. We should seek sustainable alternatives wherever possible and assess these as well as dredging on a site by site basis.”

Addressing the immediate needs of affected communities must take priority. The Blueprint for Water coalition and CIWEM trust that once the flood waters have subsided lessons will be learned from these floods. A longer-term, evidence-based policy of land use management is needed to address both flooding and drought at catchment-scale.

Martin Salter, National Campaigns Coordinator at the Angling Trust, said: “Rivers establish flood plains for a purpose and we abuse them at our peril. Dredging is no silver bullet but proper catchment management can make a difference. The government also needs to toughen up rather than weaken planning protection for vulnerable floodplains. It’s worrying to hear that there is currently a 30 per cent increase in applications in locations designated as high flood risk by the Environment Agency.”

Martin added: “You don’t have to have spent half a lifetime as an angler, boater or wildfowl enthusiast to have a basic understanding of how river catchments work and what makes flooding more or less likely – but it helps. As the flooding crisis has unfolded, the lack of science and evidence in the public debate on these issues has become more and more apparent. In particular, claims that the widespread use of dredging can act as a flood prevention measure are not only unsupported by science and evidence, they can seem like an offer of false hope to those living in flood prone communities.”

Anglers in particular are concerned that politicians could be about to take us back to the 1960’s and 70’s and turn many rivers into straightened flood channels in order to be seen to be ‘doing something’. Never mind that the evidence shows that we should be holding water back for as long as possible at the top of the catchments, ending damaging farming practices and protecting the floodplains from development.

This important report confirms that in many cases dredging can actually make flooding worse by moving the waters down too quickly and heightening the flood peaks in vulnerable, downstream areas. The last thing that people on the Lower Thames need right now is more water, delivered more quickly.”

The report makes it clear that dredging may play an important role in flood-risk management, but it is not a stand-alone solution. It is one of a range of tools and interventions, such as reducing run-off, working with natural processes to slow the flow of water, and increasing infiltration and flood storage throughout catchments.

Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Chief Executive Martin Spray said: “Wetlands alone provide £4bn worth of flood defence in the UK each year by storing water or buffering us from high tides. This dwarfs the millions spent on manmade defences. Working with nature at a catchment level, not against it, gets the power of nature working for us.”

Jeremy Biggs of the Freshwater Habitats Trust said: “It’s crucial we get more and better information about how these measures work together – that knowledge will help us provide better protection for people and nature. At the moment we’ve only got a few small-scale pilots – we need to see what happens when we work across whole landscapes, and not just in little pocket handkerchief-sized patches.”



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