The Sussex Flow Initiative has achieved a huge amount since it began 5 years ago, working with local communities, councils and organisations to investigate the potential for natural flood management, and to naturally reduce flood risk across the County and beyond.
In 2012, the Sussex Wildlife Trust, Environment Agency and the Woodland Trust began an innovative project in the River Ouse catchment in Sussex - the Sussex Flow Initiative (SFI). The project’s role was to investigate opportunities for Natural Flood Management (NFM) at the catchment scale, and to implement a range of different techniques to naturally reduce flood risk whilst providing multiple benefits to society and the environment.
In its first 5 years, we advised 150 landowners on over 5,650 hectares of land, planting nearly 28,000 trees and creating over 1,000,000 litres of new seasonal water storage by constructing flood storage ponds, pocket ponds and other Run-off Attenuation Features. Working with the Ouse & Adur Rivers Trust we helped to map nearly 5,000 ha of the catchment, and have facilitated River Habitat Surveys along 51 km of main rivers, resulting in detailed sub-catchment plans that will help target our future work.
The project is not only helping to reduce flood risk for communities downstream, it is also contributing to vital wildlife networks, and is enhancing a variety of ecosystem services, such as water purification, aquifer recharge, and climate regulation. We estimate that we have helped to store at least 10,000 tonnes of CO² in 5 years.
By disseminating information on NFM in the form of published guidance and handbooks, the SFI website and social media, as well as newspaper articles and features on local radio, the project has had far-reaching influence, as well as helping to support others to use an NFM approach. Over the last 5 years, SFI has developed strong partnerships and collaborations with organisations and academic institutes throughout the UK, supporting the development of computer models and NFM targeting tools, and research into the design and influence of large woody debris on flow and geomorphology.
One of the (not so) secrets of success of SFI, and NFM more generally, is the willingness of local communities to take ownership of tackling flood risk, either by carrying out work on their land or volunteering their time to help. We’ve been only too happy to help support these communities to feel empowered to do something tangible to help reduce flooding in their local area. We’ve also clocked up over 150 volunteer workdays, involving a range of activities from GIS mapping to tree planting. We are very grateful for all this support - the project couldn’t have come this far without its volunteers.
Through working closely with local landowners, communities, councils and organisations, the SFI project has been a huge success and continues to deliver advice and practical implementation of NFM throughout Sussex. SFI has had a busy five years (full 5-year report available here) and with national interest in NFM growing, we have even more ambitious plans for the next five years. So keep your eyes out for our 5-year vision, and for our contribution to natural flood management over the next few years, as well as a national programme of natural flood management supported through the Environment Agency’s Working with Natural Processes Project!