£2.6m project to use natural measures to protect homes from flooding

Natural flood defence measures will be installed in Wessenden Valley in West Yorkshire Credit: Robert Morris/National Trust Images/PA

Work is under way on a £2.6 million project to plant woods, restore peat bog and slow water flow in streams to protect thousands of homes from flooding.

The “natural flood management” project in West Yorkshire, led by the National Trust, aims to reduce the risk of flooding for people and wildlife devastated by the Boxing Day floods of 2015.

More than 3,000 homes and businesses in Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, Marsden and surrounding areas could benefit from the scheme, which is one of the largest of its kind in England, the trust said.

It will also restore the landscape and create habitat to help wildlife ranging from upland birds such as curlews and twite to bog plants including hare’s tail cottongrass and sphagnum.

Measures such as installing bundles of brushwood to stabilise stream banks and slopes, planting trees and creating “leaky dams” to slow water flow will be used along the Colne and Calder river catchments.

It follows a similar scheme by the National Trust at the Holnicote Estate in Somerset to lessen the risk of flooding downstream at the villages of Allerford, West Lynch and Bossington.

In West Yorkshire, work will take place at Hardcastle Crags, which has unspoiled woodlands, grasslands, waterfalls and the 19th century Gibson Mill, and Wessenden Valley, set within countryside and the wild rugged Marsden Moor landscape, both of which are cared for by the National Trust.

The scheme also includes Gorpley Reservoir, which is set within Gorpley Clough nature reserve and is looked after by Yorkshire Water and the Woodland Trust.

Over two years, 151 hectares (370 acres) of new woodland will be planted and 85 hectares (210 acres) of peat bogs, heath and moor grass or molinia will be restored.

The project aims to help areas such as Hebden Bridge which were hit by flooding on Boxing Day in 2015 Credit: Calderdale Council/PA

More than 650 leaky dams – barriers in streams which prevent soil and silt escaping and allow water to escape more slowly to reduce the speed of flow – will be created using turf, stone and willow.

In addition, 3,000 metres of “fascines” or bundles of brushwood will be dug in to the landscape to stabilise stream banks and slopes and new areas of land will be fenced for sustainable grazing by sheep and cattle, the Trust said.

On Boxing Day 2015, amid a series of storms and floods which caused havoc across parts of the UK, more than 2,800 homes and 1,600 business properties were hit by flooding along the River Calder from Todmorden to Brighouse.

Craig Best, countryside manager for the National Trust in West Yorkshire, said traditional flood schemes concentrated on “hard” defences such as walls, but there is growing recognition of the role of natural measures.

“Although natural techniques are not considered to be the single solution to reducing flood risk, they are increasingly recognised as playing a significant role alongside more traditional approaches.

“The combination of work we’re planning here of both new habitat creation and landscape restoration will, once things have become established, help absorb significant amounts of water to help slow the flow of water heading downstream towards towns and villages when we experience heavy rain.”

It is hoped the project will create habitat for upland birds such as twite Credit: National Trust/PA

Yorkshire Water chief executive Richard Flint said: “The Calder Valley reacts extremely quickly to heavy rainfall and the resulting flooding can have a devastating impact on local people.

“By working together, we can join up our different projects and deliver landscape scale solutions that provide real benefit for people and the environment.”

The scheme is receiving £1.3 million in funding from the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and £1.3 million in funds or support in-kind from partners including the Forestry Commission, Moors for the Future, the Environment Agency, Woodland Trust, Yorkshire Water, Calderdale Council and community groups.