Flood prevention scheme in Swaton held up as example as new flood funding announced

A flood prevention scheme in Swaton is being held up as an example of how areas can benefit from a share of £25 million announced to be invested in projects that use nature to protect communities from flooding.
One of the attentuation ponds after it was created in Swaton in 2021. Photo: Environment AgencyOne of the attentuation ponds after it was created in Swaton in 2021. Photo: Environment Agency
One of the attentuation ponds after it was created in Swaton in 2021. Photo: Environment Agency

The ring-fenced funding, unveiled by Environment Minister Rebecca Pow last week and provided by the Government and the Environment Agency, will support natural flood management schemes across England that use techniques such as planting trees and creating wetlands to slow and store water to reduce the risk of flooding.

These schemes are also proven to improve air and water quality, provide habitats for wildlife and create green spaces for communities.

This new funding builds on the £15m natural flood management pilot programme which ran until 2021. Across the 60 pilot projects supported by this programme, the equivalent of 1.6 million cubic metres of water storage was created and 15,000 homes were better protected from flooding, while 4,000 hectares of habitat and 610 kilometres of river were improved and 100 hectares of woodland were planted.

The £25 million will also help harness the power of nature and support the Environment Agency’s FCERM Strategy, which provides a longer-term vision of how we will create climate-resilient places and better protect and prepare homes and businesses from flooding and coastal change.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Nature is an essential weapon in our armoury against flooding. Enhancing the natural landscape to slow rivers and hold flood water works hand-in-hand with the bricks and mortar protection we are building with our £5.2 billion flood programme.

“That is why we are driving investment to harness the power of nature. This approach not only reduces flood risk and helps tackle climate change, it can also benefit water quality, restore habitats and boost biodiversity. Natural flood management is a win-win-win.”

Environment Agency chairman Alan Lovell said: “In the face of a changing climate, and with the frequency and severity of flooding only likely to get worse, we need to act now.

“The pioneers who already work with nature-based solutions to achieve greater flood resilience give me hope. I am delighted this new Natural Flood Management Programme will be open to environmental groups, catchment partnerships, farmers, landowners, and local authorities to speed up more investment in natural flood management.

“Natural flood management gives us so many wider benefits and I look forward to seeing projects coming forward that also help to create habitats for wildlife, support better river quality, and sequester carbon.”

In Lincolnshire, an NFM project has been ongoing at Swaton in Lincolnshire since 2021. Specialist ponds and grassed areas, known as field edge swales, were created across farms in the area to reduce the risk and severity of flooding to 25 homes and 38 businesses. Together these methods have been able to hold back around 48,000m3 of water, the equivalent of 19 Olympic sized swimming pools. The Environment Agency provided £1million of funding to this project which was carried out by the Black Sluice Internal Drainage Board. The project is now being monitored to see how effective it has been

The new funding is available to environmental non-governmental organisations, businesses, farmers, catchment partnerships, flood risk management authorities and community groups.

Successful projects will cover a large enough area to provide demonstrable flood risk benefits. The Environment Agency will manage the programme. Expressions of interest are open and will close on 10 November 2023. Projects will be delivered during 2024-27.

Work started on a natural flood management pilot project in Swaton in 2021. The project aims to reduce the frequency of flooding in the community.

The million pound research and development project uses natural flood management techniques to hold back water to reduce the risk and severity of flooding.

The project is designed to help the villages of Swaton, Threekingham and Spanby who currently have 25 homes and 38 businesses at risk of flooding.

The Environment Agency has worked closely with farmers to install specialist ponds and grassed areas. Together these measures slow the flow of water by storing it and letting it slowly seep into the soil.

There are five specialist attenuation ponds across three farms. In addition, the Swaton ponds have been designed to include a permanent wildlife pond in the centre of the attenuation area.

The grassed areas, known as field edge swales, are two to four metre wide strips capable of intercepting water flowing over the land. There are 29 swales across the three farms sown with wildflower seeds to boost benefits for pollinators.

Katharine Samms, a flood risk advisor for the Environment Agency said: “The project is one of the first natural flood management schemes to be installed in an arable landscape. More usually schemes are located on grazed land or in woodlands.”

The Environment Agency is working in partnership with Heriot Watt University who will be monitoring this pilot project for three years by their PhD student who will gather data and report on the scheme’s effectiveness.

Two of the farms are owned by the Crown Estate, who have allowed the Environment Agency to undertake this work to benefit the local community.

The Swaton NFM project has been predominantly funded through the Natural Flood Management Research Programme funding provided by the government between 2016 and 2021. In addition the project budget has been topped up using other government department funding. This includes local levy funding from the Regional Flood and Coastal Committee and a small amount of Flood and Coastal Risk Management Grant in Aid.

The risk to people and property from flooding is significant and continues to grow with our changing climate – both in the UK and abroad, as recent flooding events have demonstrated.

The government builds climate change projection into the design of flood risk management schemes to ensure they are fit for the future and will create a nation resilient to flooding, as set out in the Government policy statement on flood and coastal erosion risk management.

Whilst additional funding is not an absolute requirement, applicants are encouraged to secure funding or finance from other sources to support the delivery of wider multi-beneficial outcomes and improve value for money.

The government also encourages applications that propose a public-private funding mix. For example, projects that help pilot business models for investment in natural flood management, demonstrate how natural flood management can generate a sustainable revenue stream to attract and repay upfront investment, or secure funding on a scale that is only made possible through a partnership approach.