Slowing the flow for people and wildlife in the Soar Valley

Ben Devine, Conservation Officer for LRWT and Alex McDonald, Senior Environmental Project Manager for the Environment Agency, look at how working with nature is bring benefits for people

A new project is underway in the upper Soar Valley to help protect local people from flooding and create valuable new wildlife habitats in the process.

The three-year Soar Natural Flood Management project is part of a national pilot scheme, including 60 other projects across the UK, led by the Environment Agency and including Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust. Working together, we’re monitoring and researching the effectiveness of Natural Flood Management on our landscapes. We hope that this pioneering research can be then used across the UK to find natural ways to protect people, businesses and landscapes from flooding.

Working with nature

Natural Flood Management is about working with natural processes to reduce flooding. It involves implementing a wide range of measures that help to protect, restore and copy the natural functions of river catchments and floodplains. By thinking naturally, we hope to reduce the amount of water in the flood and delay the arrival of a flood downstream, by holding the water back for as long as possible. Ultimately, this is about time travel. We are improving the natural function of the River Soar, helping the surrounding landscape store more water as it once did historically, before landscape change and use put pressure on and damaged our river catchments.

Once the measures are installed, a network of equipment including water level monitors and time-lapse cameras will monitor the area. Natural Flood Management can work wonders on a river catchment. As well as helping with flood prevention, it can lead to habitat creation for wildlife; prevention of soil erosion; and improvements in water quality to name just a few. It can also reduce our reliance on hard-engineering solutions at locations where communities are affected. It’s a win-win for wildlife and people.

Narborough Bog

Our involvement is centred on our Narborough Bog nature reserve, with the aim of rewetting large areas of habitat across the site. As a result of historic changes in hydrology and pressures from surrounding development such as roads and railway lines, Narborough Bog has dried-up significantly over the years. We are delighted to be working with the Environment Agency and others to improve the watercourse for the benefit of wetland wildlife and local communities downstream.

Narborough Bog is one of four landholdings taking part in the project within the upper Soar Valley, and work started this autumn close to the riverbanks. This included felling a small number of trees and securing them across the span of the river and in the floodplain. These will slow and catch water when heavy rain occurs. We are also using fallen trees and strategically-placed brash piles to ‘roughen up’ the floodplain, intercepting yet more water. The habitats will attract a wider variety of species to existing areas of wet woodland, including aquatic plants and invertebrates in the first instance, along with bats, birds and amphibians at a later stage.

At the other sites, ponds are being created to store water and tree planting used to slow water as it moves over land. Each site will be monitored with changes in water levels and ecology closely scrutinised to see how effective the measures are. By the time is project is completed in 2021, we’ll have a wealth of research that will allow us to make better decisions on our approach to flood management, doing the best thing for people and for wildlife.