As the Government embarks on a National Flood Resilience Review in the wake of severe winter flooding in northern England and Scotland, green-space specialists have urged greater planting of trees in river catchment areas as a natural solution to flood management.
National green environment management company Glendale's regional director for the North West Alex Paterson said: "The creation and management of trees and woodland is vital to effective flood-defence strategies and Government funding strategies need to reflect this."
He added: "The idea is that trees work alongside existing engineered flood defences, which will lose their effectiveness over time. As a sustainable and effective approach to flood management, we believe tree planting projects to this effect should be implemented across the country, particularly when taking into account our increasingly changing climate."
Glendale has pointed out that when planted along riverbanks, trees help slow the water flow into the river, easing pressure on any existing flood defences while reducing erosion to banks. Tree roots also "transform the ground into a spongy reservoir, which absorbs water and releases it slowly", it said. Other benefits to a concerted programme of tree planting would include improved water quality, greater biodiversity and carbon storage, Paterson added.
Earlier this month, forestry industry body Confor and the Woodland Trust wrote a joint letter to Defra secretary Liz Truss to highlight the role that tree planting could play in reducing the threat of floods. "Tree planting can contribute to reducing peak flows as part of a package of measures to reduce the threat of flooding, as well as improving water quality," the letter said.
Confor chief executive Stuart Goodall explained: "We need to hold rainwater in the hills so that the peak flow of water is reduced, helping flood defences to do their job. Planting productive forests manages water flow while also helping wildlife, providing alternative income for farmers and locking up carbon."
In November, Confor and The Woodland Trust called on the Government to commit to planting 7,000ha of woodland every year until 2020, amounting to around 15 million trees per year.
The National Flood Resilience Review, chaired by Conservative West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin, will report on how the UK can be better protected from future flooding and increasingly extreme weather events. A report in The Times claimed it will lead to "hundreds of thousands" of trees being planted in upland areas to help slow the flow of rainwater and reduce the risk of flooding.