Flood Risk Management Strategy

Today Emma Howard Boyd, Environment Agency Chair, will be launching the start of the consultation on the draft national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy for England. The draft strategy marks the culmination of engagement with over 90 organisations. The Secretary of State for Defra in his climate change speech last year recognised that we need to “explore new philosophies around flood and coast management”.

The draft strategy begins that process. The consultation is an opportunity to hear your views on those new philosophies and the level of ambition within the draft strategy.

The draft strategy sets out a vision for “a nation ready for, and resilient to, flooding and coastal change – today, tomorrow and to the year 2100.” It has three ambitions:

  • Climate resilient places;
  • Today’s growth and infrastructure to be resilient in tomorrow’s climate; and
  • A nation of climate champions, able to adapt to flooding and coastal change through innovation.

The consultation runs from today 9th May for eight weeks until the 4th July and can be found here.

Mitigating the impact of riverside works by the Environment Agency

Lothersdale 2

Sometimes it is necessary for the Environment Agency to do works along our riverbanks to reduce the risk of future flooding. These can include removing poorly rooted trees (so they do not subsequently wash downriver and block bridges), removing vegetation from flood banks (to enable proper maintenance and to reduce the potential for breaching the floodbank) and so on.

These works have caused problems in the past and, whilst things are improving, we believe that there is room for further improvement in how the EA mitigates for any adverse effect of essential maintenance. The report available via this link illustrates some of the mitigation already being undertaken, and they should be congratulated for this work. However, I have to comment that “Retention of occasional overhanging willow for fish cover” or “Retention of cover for fish” does not in my opinion count as mitigation.

Mitigation is a positive action designed to reduce the effects of some other potentially detrimental action. It is not doing nothing somewhere else.

We share The Wild Trout Trust’s concern that insufficient work is being undertaken to mitigate the local effects of these works, and will be talking with the EA about how to make further improvements in their operations.

Trees, trees and yet more trees…

No, this is not a picture of the River Aire in midsummer, but at last weeks meeting of our Trustees, I did make a very high level reference to the millions of trees likely to be planted in the Aire valley in coming years. This will happen as a consequence of the recent announcement of Northern Forest (of which White Rose Forest is part and which ART supports as a formal partner), YWS’ commitment to plant a million trees, Leeds City Region’s similar commitment to increase the tree cover in the region to 15%(?) which is several million trees, and the many NFM proposals including one for Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme Part 2 which proposes to spend several £million on NFM. Some of the Angling Clubs in the valley have already been doing their bit and their contribution will continue to be very welcome and helpful. And of course the Upper Aire Project has been planting trees up there for several years now.

My basic point was that we (me, WRF, EA, LCC and others) are doing our best to get all this possible activity collated. It’s important not to control it all but to help some sense of co-ordination, collaboration and mutual learning.

The landscape implications of all this work may be significant and one of the stakeholder engagement issues currently identified, but yet to be tackled, is the impact on the wider community of this change. Watch this space – as well as the countryside.

Geoff Roberts – Chairman, Aire Rivers Trust

‘Tis the season to be planting….

Lothersdale Tree Planters
One of Bradford City Angling Association’s tree planting work parties

Winter weather may be a good excuse to stoke the fire, contemplate the drinks cabinet closely and turn one’s back to the outdoors. However, that cold weather also causes dormancy in trees which means winter is the ideal time to get out planting, provided the ground is not too water-logged or too frozen!

Trees are increasingly recognised as being a valuable component of natural flood management – see, for instance, this blog . They intercept rain and slow it reaching the ground, even when they are bare. Their roots allow water to penetrate more deeply into the soil. Their physical presence slows flow when rivers overtop banks and their trunks act as natural filters, trapping debris that is carried along in flood water. Their roots within the soil also increase the resilience of river banks by binding them together. They provide a host of other ecosystem benefits too, such as shade for rivers during the summer, and food and nest sites for insects and birds.

The Aire valley is crying out for more trees. Giant strides have been made by the partners of the Upper Aire Project in initiating some quite large scale planting schemes towards the top end of the system. However, every little helps….

Before Christmas, at least three groups were out and about planting. Anglers are the eyes and ears on the river bank, and often true champions of river stewardship. Members of both Bradford City Angling Association  and Skipton Angling Association have been busy on the banks of the Aire where they have riparian rights, and in close partnership with the relevant riparian land owners and the Environment Agency over 1500 trees have been planted near the river at various locations with more to come. Skipton AA are also planting on the becks feeding Embsay Reservoir, with permission from Yorkshire Water.

Lotherdale 1
Lothersdale village residents planting up a track verge to intercept overland flow

Towards the top end of a major Aire tributary, the villagers of Lothersdale have also been identifying areas suitable for planting. They were one of the first recipients of a Woodland Trust Community Woodland Grant to rehabilitate the woodland in the centre of the village and along Lothersdale Beck.

Now they have planted approximately 1000 trees to link established copses, create shelter-belts and interception belts to slow the flow of water reaching the small becks. Word of mouth has spread the news and various local landowners are interested in establishing further planting on their properties.

Lotherdale 2
Planting on the Aire at Eshton Beck confluence

Where have the trees come from? Well, some have been lovingly grown on by interested folk, collecting acorns for example. The majority, however, for these small scale initiatives have come from either the Woodland Trust  or the Trust for Conservation Volunteers , in some cases facilitated by the Wild Trout Trust .

 

 

Community packs of trees in various permutations and combinations are available to groups and schools – see their websites for details.

Planting by Lothersdale village residents alongside the Pennine Way
Planting by Lothersdale village residents alongside the Pennine Way

 

Thanks to (Prof.) Jon Grey, a Lothersdale resident and Research and Conservation Officer for The Wild Trout Trust for this article.

Stopping flooding in Leeds – FAS2 consultation

Flooding on Kirkstall Road, Leeds at Xmas 2015Leeds FAS2 is the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme Phase 2. This major flood risk management scheme is being designed to substantially reduce the risk of any repeat of the Xmas 2015 flooding.

The Environment Agency and Leeds City Council have been working together for the last 18 months to come up with their outline proposals and these are laid out in this leaflet.

This is an interesting scheme, for at least three reasons:

  1. because of firstly the size (potentially £100 million)
  2. that they have taken a ‘whole catchment’ approach in which possible measure well upstream of Leeds have been explored and
  3. that ‘Natural Flood Management’methods, such as tree planting, land management, leaky dams etc have been considered.

The Aire Rivers trust has already been involved in a network of catchment-wide stakeholders put together to help inform the proposals and we look forward to the detail being released in due course. A scheme as big as this will inevitably have some short-term effects in the locale of the work and so we will be seeking appropriate compensatory and enhancement work to maintain and improve the river.

Meanwhile, you might want to read the leaflet and see what the proposals contain.

Tree works on rivers

Earlier this year many of us expressed serious concern about the way in which the Environment Agency were undertaking tree clearance/improvement work on the Upper Aire. No need to repeat the details of the saga here because the important point is that the EA have learned from what they acknowledge was a pretty dire performance. The attached note outlines the results of in internal review which as led to improved planning and liaison before work is undertaken.

There is a difficult balance to reach between flood alleviation works and the needs of the ecosystem but we know that most of these recommendations have already been applied successfully in other catchments and look forward to working with the EA, the Wild Trout Trust and the angling clubs in the future to get the best for everyone.

2017 – An important year for River Aire fish passage

 

2017 – An important year for River Aire fish passage

Work has been going on for a number of years to improve fish passage for migratory fish in the Aire below Leeds. This work has provided fish passes at Castleford, Lemonroyd, Fleet, Rothwell Country Park and Thwaite Mills.

Fish passes are required on a further four weirs downstream of Leeds. All the four weirs are owned by the Canal and River Trust and are used for navigational purposes. Three of the four weirs are major ones and are situated at Chapel Haddlesey, Knottingley and Knostrop. The other weir, which is not quite as big a barrier to fish as the others, is at Crown Point in the centre of Leeds.

Major developments are currently taking place which will provide fish passes on all four of the weirs mentioned above. Two of the weirs will be furnished with fish passes as a result of hydro electricity schemes whereas the other two are included as part of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme (Leeds FAS) and will receive fish passes as the weirs are rebuilt. The time scale for completion and brief background notes are shown below. The result of these developments will be that migratory fish such as salmon, sea trout and eels should be able to reach the centre of Leeds with relative ease by September 2017.

Chapel Haddlesey

This weir is at the tidal limit and was first constructed in 1702. UK Hydro Ltd started work in August 2016 on two Archimedes Screws, a fish pass and a by-wash channel. The screws are already installed and work has begun on the fish pass. The fish pass is expected to be in use by fish at some point in March 2017.

Knottingley

This is the biggest weir on the River Aire being some ten feet high. The weir was reconstructed in the 1970s.

In the summer of 2016, Barn Energy commenced construction of a Kaplan Turbo and fish pass on the weir. Power generation is expected to start in the late summer of 2017 and the fish pass should be in use by the end of September 2017.

Knostrop (Leeds)

Knostrop Weir, substantially rebuilt in 1905, has already been removed and replaced by a temporary weir. The weir is being rebuilt as a moveable weir as part of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme and the new weir will include a fish pass. The work is expected to be complete by May 2017.

Crown Point (Leeds)

The weir at Crown Point has already been substantially demolished under the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme. The weir is being rebuilt as a moveable weir and will include a fish pass. Work should be complete by July 2017.

In the longer term we continue to develop and seek funds for our DNAire project to remove all barriers to passage on the main spine of the river and enable a sustainable population of migratory fish.

Thanks to Kevin Sunderland for writing this article and his undying enthusiasm and passion for getting salmon back to Skipton and beyond – his dream is beginning to look real,

 

Upper Aire Project – another award!

Upper Aire Project TeamThe team running the Upper Aire Project have picked up yet another award for this great scheme. Here is what the Environment Agency, who have devoted considerable funding to the scheme,  had to say upon hearing the announcement:

A pioneering scheme that is leading the way in improving some of Yorkshire’s best countryside has won a prestigious national award.

The Upper Aire Project won the Green Apple award for its work on improving the environment and wildlife, particularly fish, in the River Aire and its surrounding catchment area.

The project is run by the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and the Yorkshire Farming and Wildlife Partnership, with the support of local businesses and landowners.

Having competed against more than 500 nominations, members of the partnership were presented with the Green Apple award for Environmental Best Practice at a ceremony at the Houses of Parliament.

Environment Agency fisheries officer Pete Turner, who leads the project and collected the award, said:

I’m really proud of this project and I’m over the moon we won this award, especially as the award is for partnership working, which is a major reason it is such a success.

Over the last five years the Environment Agency has spent £368,000 on the project, with a further £90,000 over the next three years just committed. This has been matched by £356,000 from partners, private organisations, landowners and environmental charities. There has also been more than £100,000 worth of manpower contributed, thanks to volunteers working the equivalent of about 2,000 days.

Mr Turner continues:

The Upper Aire Catchment is beautiful. Picturesque streams feeding into the burbling River Aire as it flows through the Yorkshire Dales and down into more urbanised areas such as Bradford and Leeds, eventually joining the River Ouse at Goole.

But that beauty belies a series of issues which meant that wildlife, and fish particularly, were struggling to get a foothold in some areas, which is why we put the project together.

To be successful the project needed to capture the hearts and minds of landowners and farmers, but they were quick to lend their support once the project demonstrated the benefits.

Landowner taking part in the scheme, Philip Metcalfe, said:

The Upper Aire Project team made a really compelling case for converting some marginal land at the top end of Otterburn Beck to wet woodland. Soil is my most precious resource, so any extra ways of keeping it on the land instead of seeing it washed into local becks are really welcome. Doing that successfully means everyone wins – I keep my soil and the water quality will improve.

Alan Thwaite, who also runs a farm in the area, said:

The Upper Aire Project installed 13 leaky dams in the gullies which drain water from the land above my farm. At Christmas we had record-breaking rainfall but our farmhouse didn’t flood, despite this being a fairly regular occurrence until then. There’s no question in my mind that the two things are related.

Mr Turner added:

It will be a long road before we see fish numbers increasing, but we’re confident our work has not only changed the health of the upper River Aire, but the mindsets of many landowners too.

In addition to the environmental benefits the project team used only local contractors and supported the economy by having all meetings at local farm shops.

The format of the project is already being scrutinised by new partner, the Yorkshire Dales National Park, with a view to implementation on their land in North Yorkshire.

The Green Apple Awards began in 1994 and have become established as the country’s major recognition for environmental endeavour among companies, councils, communities and countries.

The awards are organised by The Green Organisation, an international, independent, non-political, non-profit environment group dedicated to recognising, rewarding and promoting environmental best practice around the world.

The honour comes after the project won the Large-Scale Habitat Enhancement Scheme award at the Wild Trout Trust Conservation Awards last year.

The Water Framework Directive prompted an assessment of every catchment, rating it on a scale of poor to good ecological status

The Environment Agency undertook the huge task of gathering information and making the assessments, and was left with a brilliant picture of not only the health of our rivers and streams, but what was impacting this.

Before starting any work, YWT volunteers walked the majority of the catchment, mapping sediment sources and collecting information such as land use, vegetation and presence of non-native species. This allowed us to rank the sources and identify priority landowners.

In the headwaters of the River Aire and its tributaries, sediment is the main issue for fish, impacting on their ability to spawn. Working with willing farmers we focused on installing fencing to exclude their stock from the river, targeted riverbank restoration and planting trees to absorb rainwater as it flows down the hilly catchment.

Working with YWT and Yorkshire Farming and Wildlife Partnership a demonstration site in Gargrave was established to show the difference buffer strip fencing and selected planting would make. At the demonstration site we: rebuilt the bank along the river, which had been poached for years by 300 dairy cattle; installed fencing to create a buffer strip to allow grass to re-establish; and reinstated fencing and installed a new gate which meant the cows took a route away from the river to be milked.

This site has since been used at engagement days to show local landowners what’s possible and to help recruit more to the project.

We can only add our congratulations and promises of future support to this scheme which has delivered both quality and flood risk improvements. Well done to all concerned, to Pete Turner, Don Vine and Phil Lyth, and perhaps most of all to the farmers and landowners who collaborated so willingly.

Shoal removal

Shoal clearance Ireland Bridge 2016The EA have started a programme of removing some of the shoals (gravel banks) deposited by last year’s flooding. They tell us that this is an essential part of flood protection work.

More details can be found in the attached briefing note from the EA – Shoal Clearance 2016