Giving Natural Flood Management Development a Boost Through Innovation Support

Guest Blog: Hiatt Jackson, Technology Research Manager, Flood Innovation Centre

At the Flood Innovation Centre, we are huge fans of Sustainable Drainage and the kind of innovative work done in the field by organisations like GreenBlue Urban. Lately, we have also begun to take a particular interest in the broader scope of Natural Flood Management. Some might say that Natural Flood Management (NFM) is the country sister of Sustainable Drainage. Okay, nobody actually says that, as far as I know, but that is certainly the way that I originally thought of it. Now, I know it to be a broad-reaching term that covers a wide range of back-to-nature interventions to mitigate flood risk, one of which is Sustainable Drainage. We know as well as anyone that there is not a single, one-size-fits-all, solution to increasing our national flood resilience and we need to expand the search for technologies and approaches that will tackle the problem in a way that works in the environment in which it is being implemented.

The Environment Agency also has a keen interest in NFM and Working with Natural Processes (WWNP), defining it as,

“…implementing measures that help to protect, restore and emulate the natural functions of catchments, floodplains, rivers and the coast. WWNP takes many different forms and can be applied in urban and rural areas, and on rivers, estuaries and coasts.”

They have applied considerable resources to researching the effects of NFM, which speaks to its value as a flood resilience intervention with significant impact when applied effectively. They mention a range of measures including woodland, floodplain and river restoration, leaky barriers, soil and land management, saltmarshes and mudflats, all of which could contribute to a well-managed flood resilient future.  Discover more here. 

Photo by Julian

Well, this all sounds really good: get back to nature, restore beautiful wetlands, create habitats for native species and places that increase the wellbeing of the people who use them, all while reducing the devastating effects of flooding. However, whether you are looking at restoration of riparian woodlands or regenerative agriculture, or any other of the multitude of interventions that fall into the NFM category, there seems to be a lack of businesses that are skilled and able to carry out the plans for this type of work.

Dr Jessica Fox, Senior Flood Risk Officer at Hull City Council who has the first-hand experience in commissioning NFM schemes has told the Flood Innovation Centre about a major stumbling block in the tender process:

“A challenge we face is finding contractors that have the expertise to design and deliver natural flood management techniques, whether that be in new developments or retrofitting onto existing sites. Essentially, we ask for an engineered flood scheme to be delivered so that it can function ‘naturally’. There is a shortage of knowledge of how to deliver NFM measures and build them into new designs. This leads to NFM solutions acting as a stand-alone measure when we actually want them to be incorporated into an overall site design. This is key for long term sustainability and flood resilience so there is a real opportunity here to develop knowledge and expertise in this area.”

To address this issue in the supply chain, the Flood Innovation Centre at the University of Hull is working with local authorities and other key stakeholders. Together, we’ve identified that companies in the region, and beyond, lack the knowledge and expertise to deliver the Natural Flood Management (NFM) schemes that are necessary if we are to manage the growing flood risk faced by our region. The result of these discussions has been the development of an NFM workshop series to support SMEs looking to become more involved in the implementation of NFM projects.

Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton

The interactive, online workshops cover innovative methodologies for country, urban and coastal settings. Starting 12 May, and delivered across 5 weekly sessions, the workshops bring businesses together with experts in the development, implementation and maintenance of NFM schemes and with commissioning organisations and potential partners for collaborative working. The specialist courses are fully funded (so there’s no cost to businesses) and they’re delivered online.

The workshop programme will be delivered by a combination of experts from the Flood Innovation Centre and the wider University, as well experienced figures drawn from the workshop stakeholder panel, such as the Environment Agency, local authorities, DEFRA and Yorkshire Water.

There are limited places available on the workshops, so businesses are encouraged to apply now. If you’re aware of an SME who could benefit from attending, please pass on this link for further information and workshop registration: https://floodinnovation.co.uk/events/sme-opportunities-in-natural-flood-management/

The Flood Innovation Centre also has a varied programme of knowledge exchange activity with SMEs, helping them innovate new products, processes and services in flood resilience – opportunities are ongoing for both SMEs and supporting researchers to get involved with an exciting range of projects. If you would like to get involved, please email: [email protected]