The Guardian Australia

Call of the rewild: releasing Britain's rivers to ease flooding

- Kate Ravilious

For many of us across the UK it has felt like another wet winter; yet again homes have flooded and politician­s are under pressure to improve flood protection. Engineerin­g our rivers and building defences might bring reassuranc­e, but recent research shows that doing nothing is often more effective at reducing flooding.

George Heritage and Neil Entwistle from the University of Salford studied the River Caldew in Cumbria; responsibl­e for three major floods in Carlisle since 2010. Their results, published in the journal Water, show that the straighten­ing, deepening and widening of the river has increased the rate at which sediment whooshes downstream, dumping its load in Carlisle and increasing the chances of overflow there. But where this upstream river maintenanc­e has been relaxed they found the river has reverted to wandering, depositing more sediment upstream and reducing the clogging up in Carlisle.

And the River Caldew is no exception. The same debate is being played out in New Zealand, where scientists are arguing for the rewilding of rivers, giving them space to move. Confining rivers has created valuable agricultur­al land like that seen on the Canterbury Plains, but has come at a cost of increased flood risk downstream. It’s time to release our rivers.

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