NERC funds research on impact of farm land use on Thames flooding

Monday, November 13, 2017

NERC is to award £1.25m to a research project which will examine the extent to which farmers in the west Thames area can prevent fluvial flooding by choosing different crops, building soil organic matter and planting more trees.

Led by the University of Reading, the researchers will work with farmers, communities and local authorities across the area to learn how different land management methods impact on flood risk.

The LANDWISE (Land management in lowland catchments for integrated flood risk reduction) will focus on the west Thames river basin. It is estimated that around 112,000 properties in the area are at risk of fluvial flooding, almost 10,000 at risk of groundwater flooding, and many more in danger of surface water flooding.

The project will explore whether broad scale changes in land use and management could have helped reduce flooding in the west Thames area in 2007 and winter 2013/14.

The team will test how effective NFM measures are for small to large flood events and from local to large river basin scale. Initially, the research will focus on the Loddon, Pang and Upper Thames catchments, before being scaled up to the Thames river basin upstream from Oxford and Maidenhead.  

The team will gather local knowledge on current land management methods, record how they impact water infiltration and storage below ground using field measurement and satellite technology. The study will also look at the potential risk of flooding from increased storage of water in deep groundwater if it results in higher groundwater levels.

The team will run modelling experiments based on the data collected and local knowledge. An interactive online data visualisation tool will be developed to help evaluate data sources.  Ultimately, the research will look to inform future government policy on land use and management changes after Britain leaves the EU.

Dr Joanna Clark, associate professor of environmental science at the University of Reading, and project lead, said: "The views, experience and knowledge of farmers, landowners and communities are often overlooked during research that heavily affects them. We found there are many farmers who have already made responsible changes to their land management practices that have the potential to reduce flooding, and others could be further incentivised by changes in agricultural policy.

"More work is now needed to fully understand how effective current efforts made by farmers to rebuild soils have been to reduce flooding. The LANDWISE project will quantify by how much, where and how the flood risk benefits are scaled up from small catchment to large river basins, like West Thames. To do this, we will work on developing methods to measure the land surface from space and use of this data in predictive models alongside local knowledge."

The project is one of three funded by NERC as part of its four-year £4m ‘Understanding the Effectiveness of NFM’ programme. The two other projects are led by the University of Lancaster and University of Manchester.

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