'Natural dams' flood management scheme in Whinlatter Forest is underway

Video report by Tim Backshall

Work has started on a natural flood management project at Whinlatter Forest which aims to help slow the flow of water towards Lorton and the River Cocker.

In partnership with Forestry England and the Environment Agency, West Cumbria Rivers Trust is installing over 200 leaky dams in Aiken Beck, Whinlatter Gill and various tributaries and forest ditches.

Made from logs and tree trunks from Whinlatter Forest itself, the dams will hold back water when beck levels are high during storms then drain gradually afterwards, reducing peak river levels downstream.

In the summer, embankments will be removed from the sides of Whinlatter Gill to restore the natural floodplain and keep water in the area for longer after storms.

The work is taking place in areas away from the Whinlatter Forest Visitor Centre and there will not be any trail closures.

West Cumbria Rivers Trust says the project is an important part of the River Cocker natural flood management and catchment restoration project.

Last year, the trust installed new rapids along a 650-metre stretch at Blaze Beck. This was to raise the water level and encourage the beck to use its floodplain again. It's hoped the new dams will complement this project too.

The new features also provide a range of wildlife habitat benefits. Installing wood in watercourses provides more diverse habitat, and reconnecting floodplains improves our wetland habitats. Natural flood management is being taken seriously nationally, with projects happening in flood- prone areas nationwide using natural solutions to complement hard flood defences.

Annabelle Kennedy, Project Officer at West Cumbria Rivers Trust

Cumbria has seen three major floods in recent years, with places like Cockermouth among the worst affected. The village of Lorton below Whinlatter Forest has suffered on all three of those occasions. It's hoped the leaky dams will help prevent this in future.

Living in Cockermouth I’m well aware of the impacts of flooding and keen to help through my work in the Cocker and Derwent catchments. As managers of Whinlatter forest, Forestry England is keen to see the nation’s forests play their part in reducing flood risk. It’s great to see tree stems and branches from our forests being used as natural materials in these structures.

Gareth Browning, Area Forester for Forestry England