90 per cent of floodplains unfit for purpose

A new study has revealed that only 10 per cent of England’s extensive floodplains are fit for purpose, increasing the risk of flooding across the UK.

Changing Face of Floodplains, a 12-month study published by Co-Op Insurance, warns that floods will claim higher economic costs unless action is taken to prevent the ongoing damage to floodplains and restore some of their functions to the 90 per cent that no longer function properly.

Furthermore, with natural floodplains covering approximately five per cent of England, the report states that, alongside the 90 per cent which no longer function properly,: 65 per cent have been modified by agriculture to be smoother, and now man made; nine per cent have been lost to urban and suburban building developments; six per cent are now covered by semi-natural woodland and rough grassland; four per cent by open water; and only 0.5 per cent now natural or semi-natural wetland.

The report argues that, as natural floodplains have been altered by man-made features, the ability to store water has been hindered, leading to sudden and unstoppable deluges - like that seen during Storm Desmond in 2015.

Storm Desmond saw rivers and streams burst their banks and affected over 6,000 homes and businesses, causing in excess of £500 million in damages.

Floodplains serve as ‘sponges’ in the landscape, forming natural buffers that hold back or divert rushing water after rainfall. However, due to intensive agriculture, increasing urbanisation, poor management of rivers and the draining of wetlands, the majority of natural features no longer fulfil the needs of the environment during heavy rainfall. The report warns that some floodplains are close to collapse.

George Heritage, co-author of the study, said: ”We have ignored our floodplains. The changes to them mean water [from heavy rainfall] can flow much faster downstream, and can flow at the same speed as the water in the rivers.”

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