Skip to content

Tackling flooding from ground up

Updated Friday 10th January 2014

With increasing likelihood and frequency of flooding expected in Britain, what can be done to prevent the devastation? 

Flooded street in Britain Creative commons image Icon cheltenhamborough | Flickr under Creative-Commons license We have been recently inundated with news of flooding, following recent heavy rainfall and high tides in parts of the country. The devastation caused by such forces of nature is often severe, causing loss of property, infrastructure and even lives.

With increasing likelihood and frequency of flooding expected (not least due to changing climate) as well as the unrelenting use of floodplain areas for economic purpose, such incidents are not expected to go away. This is bad news and is already impacting land-use planning and even the flood insurance market (Horne & McShane (2013). Nature Climate Change 3: 945–947)

How does a flood happen?

Flood refers to overflow of surface water in a land that is normally dry. Most common way is when a water body (e.g. river, lake or dam) overspills due to excess water or severe wind moves tides inland in coastal areas. Flooding can also be a result of natural cycle e.g. in floodplains where land floods seasonally or a result of exceptional events (e.g. tsunami). Whenever possible, the Environment Agency tracks potential floods and issues warnings.

Regardless of the cause, an area gets inundated when the soils in the land either lose their ability to absorb the extra water (e.g. due to filling up) or their rate of absorption (infiltration) is overtaken with the rate of water supply.

What can be done?

Floods are not always completely avoidable but mitigations could be implemented. For example, the amount of incoming water could be controlled via engineering solutions like building barriers to stop it coming or making canals to divert the water elsewhere.

Also the speed of incoming water could be reduced by breaking slope length, or increasing roughness of the land by vegetation or physical barriers. This will impound the water and let it slowly percolate in to the soil and hence reducing surface flow. For this good soil structure i.e. soil with good infiltration would be helpful, while compacted soil wouldn’t (Soil condition blamed for flooding).

Of course, avoiding building in natural floodplains, and acting to minimise perturbation to such ecosystem services will greatly reduce flooding damage. Any interventions would require prudent integrated landscape scale management, involving all stakeholders.

Lastly, if you already are near flood-prone areas then it is best to obtain a flood insurance, as the government advises.

Take it further by:

  • Reading some facts about floods on National Geographic.
  • Trying out a free course on Environmental decision making to understand the implications our decisions have for our environment and the complex and challenging issues it is facing.
  • Studying Environmental science and develop a holistic approach encompassing the process, links, interactions and feedback machanisms that operate different environments.
 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Monty Don on learning from experts Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC audio icon

Nature & Environment 

Monty Don on learning from experts

Shared Planet presenter Monty Don discusses how he learns from OU experts.

Audio
5 mins
Amazonian challenges: Climate change, drought and wildfires Creative commons image Icon Andrea Borgarello under CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

Nature & Environment 

Amazonian challenges: Climate change, drought and wildfires

Global warming is causing siginificant damage to the Amazon biome region.

Article
Climate change Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 2 icon

Nature & Environment 

Climate change

Climate change is a key issue on today's social and political agenda. This free course explores the basic science that underpins climate change and global warming.

Free course
18 hrs
Microbes – friend or foe? Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: selvanegra/istockphoto.com free course icon Level 1 icon

Nature & Environment 

Microbes – friend or foe?

Microbes often get a bad name. Whilst some of them do cause disease, others play vital roles in recycling nutrients in the soil to enable plants to grow, and in breaking down human waste. Without microbes, we would have no beer, no yoghurt, no coffee. That's quite impressive for something too small to see. This free course, Microbes friend or foe? sheds some light on them.

Free course
10 hrs
The challenge of invasive alien species Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Jgade | Dreamstime.com article icon

Nature & Environment 

The challenge of invasive alien species

Invasive species are a growing challenge: causing damage to species, ecosystems and people.

Article
Climate Change isn't special Creative commons image Icon Walter Parenteau under CC-BY-NC-SA licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

Nature & Environment 

Climate Change isn't special

Joe Smith suggests that we need to think of climate change as an everyday problem - and suggests using tax as a possible solution.

Article
Project COBRA: Community owned solutions Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Project Cobra article icon

Nature & Environment 

Project COBRA: Community owned solutions

How Project COBRA can make a difference to the Amazon.

Article
Meadow habitats Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: M E Dodd activity icon

Nature & Environment 

Meadow habitats

Stories from a floodplain meadow; a habitat once widespread in Britain, but now only surviving in isolated patches.

Activity
Urban and rural waste in China Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 1 icon

Nature & Environment 

Urban and rural waste in China

This free course, Urban and rural waste in China, is an introduction to the waste practices and waste management processes currently being practiced in China. Students learn about waste in China and then contrast those practices with their own.

Free course
8 hrs