Belford flood scheme a national example

Work on the Belford flood defence project.

Work on the Belford flood defence project.

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Flood prevention work in Belford has been highlighted as an example to follow nationwide following severe floods in other parts of the country.

Water experts are calling on ministers to show greater leadership on flooding by promoting back-to-nature schemes which protect lowland homes by deliberately creating floods in the hills.

The Northumberland Wildlife Trust argues that upland schemes to slow river flow cost a fraction of conventional flood walls.

A pilot project carried out upstream of Belford by the Environment Agency and Newcastle University in 2007 has been a huge success.

Here, several ponds have been built to catch run-off water and allow it to soak away slowly rather than rushing downstream into the village.

In an interview for BBC Breakfast, Geoff O’Connell of Belford Parish Council said: “Life was fairly miserable. We had five floods in a little over two years and every time it happened people were knee deep in water, carpets were soaked. It was absolutely dreadful and we needed an answer.

“The flooding has stopped altogether now and transformed everything for everybody here.”

Phil Welton, from the Environment Agency, says the UK should aspire to have a pond in every field in the areas where flood prevention is needed.

“We really need to change out thinking about how to deal with flood risk in the UK,” he said. “We have built defences to deal with the problem where it occurs rather than look upstream at where the water runs off the land.

“Really there are so many solutions up and around the catchment that need to be looked at.”

A handful of pilot projects have pioneered cheap small-scale measures like felling trees into streams to slow down the flow, and building earth banks to catch run-off water and allow it to soak away but progress has been slow and funding is a major problem.

Duncan Hutt, head of land management at Northumberland Wildlife Trust said: “It really is unacceptable to have had thousands of people in communities up and down the country devastated by these floods when we know there’s a better way to deal with flooding.

“It is time to take a more imaginative approach; one which tackles a whole range of problems head-on. Natural solutions will make rural and urban landscapes more absorbent and better able to deal with heavy rainfall as well as drought.”

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