Making Space for Water

On 24 February I wrote in my Blog about the close shave I’d had with my family with the serious floods that hit the island of Madeira. Then, a freak rainstorm blew off the Atlantic and caused massive damage as the canalised rivers and flood defences in the main towns failed to hold the water that had fallen on the mountainous national park that makes up most of the island.

From Bleaklow looking towards Kinder. The Peak District National Park is an enormous water catchment area for surrounding areas. But rivers can destroy as well as provide sustenance

On Thursday, I was part of the celebrations to launch a really exciting new project in the Peak District – Making Space for Water, run by our Moors for the Future partnership. The moors of the Peak District national park are the water gathering grounds for reservoirs that supply water to the main cities of the North West, Midland and Yorkshire. But when the rainfall is intense this can also cause flooding downstream, and that is a distressing and costly business.

Gulley erosion damages wildlife sites, harms the landscape and causes discolouring of water supplies. Does it also increase flood risk?

The catchments on the moors are only a small fraction of the whole of the catchment of a river like the Derwent, but as the moors have much higher rainfall, they have a disproportionate effect on flooding. People have thought for some time that managing the vegetation in the upper catchment would be a way of ‘reducing the hydrograph’, in other words reducing the intensity of flooding by delaying flow of water off the moors.

Lord Smith and the delegates hear from Matt Buckler of the Moors for the Future Partnership plans for the restoration of 220 acres of eroded moorland

Several years ago, Defra published its own policy Making Space for Water and this has been followed up by 3 pilot projects, ‘Slowing the Flow’ at Pickering, Holnicote national Trust Estate in the South West and the Kinder Plateau in the Peak District.

Chair of the Environment Agency Lord Smith (centre) discusses moorlands with Geoff Nickolds, Chair of the Moors for the Future partnership

At 625m the summit of Kinder is the highest part of the Peak District and on the Northern flanks of the plateau years of air pollution, fires and poor grazing management has led to huge areas of bare peat. The hypothesis of the project is that by restoring a 89ha block of land it will be possible to measure on a landscape and catchment scale the effects on the water catchment. Scaled up, this could be the basis of reducing risks further down the catchment.

Mark Haslam of the Environment Agency explains the rationale behind the project

The project was launched by Lord Smith, Chris Smith who is Chair of the Environment Agency. The agency has a huge job and is responsible for flood defence across England. At a time of likely cuts in its budgets, it’s good to see them supporting this innovative project.

Lord Smith explains the multiple benefits of moorland restoration including the prospect that it may save lives and property damage through reducing flood risks

The delegates to the launch heard speakers from the project, the key partners such as Environment Agency, National Park Authority, Natural England, the water companies and the National Trust. The challenges of managing our moors are so great, it is only by working together that we can really tackle the job.

Some of The Moors for the Future partners: Jon Stewart of Natural England, Narendra Bajaria of the National Park Authority, Lord Smith of the Environment Agency, Chris Dean Project Manager, Mike Innerdale of the National Trust and Matilda Beatty of Severn Trent Water

Following the launch, the delegation took a walk onto Bleaklow to view the trial site at Kinder (albeit by telescope) and to see the moorlands at first hand. Further details on the project at