Floods of Winter 2020/21
Mary Dhonau (OBE)
Mary Dhonau Associates Flood Resilience Consultants
The Floods of Winter 2020/21
By Mary Dhonau
The floods of this winter (2020/2021) have already caused flooding to over 1,000 properties across the UK, and many more homes were evacuated. We have seen yet more rainfall records broken, particularly in parts of South Wales, Northamptonshire, Cumbria and the Scottish Highlands*. Sadly, some of the floods happened over Christmas itself, just as they did in 2015.
In many places, the torrential rains landed on ground that was already sodden, making the rivers rise almost immediately. Once again, the countryside around my own home in Worcester resembled a series of lakes, with miles and miles of nothing but water. Remember it isn’t ‘just water’ when it arrives inside your home, however - it is filthy and it stinks (and if you’ve not smelt floodwater, let me tell you, it’s horrific!) The huge impact on people’s lives can never be underestimated. I have been involved in flood risk since my own home flooded 20 years ago, and have seen many floods but, unless things change, I fear this is now becoming the new norm for our winters.
I don't work on the front line, but I do work very closely with those who do. I know how incredibly hard all those who managed this flood have worked - and we mustn’t forget that over 55,000 homes weren’t flooded, due to existing flood defences. Volunteer Flood Wardens have also worked tirelessly to support their communities and should be saluted. I also know the utter devastation that so many people have suffered as a result of being flooded – believe me, being flooded destroys lives. I have travelled around the country and seen first-hand the suffering of so many people. Every time I appear on television or radio, I'm contacted afterwards for help. I've spent hours talking to and messaging people who just don't know which way to turn. People already have 'stuff' going on in their lives and being flooded can literally break them. And let me tell you that the recovery from the flood is far worse than the flood itself! People struggle to carry on with daily lives, whilst trying to ‘project manage’ a building site, that is their own home and, to put it mildly, managing an insurance claim causes huge levels of stress.
So many lessons need to be learned, we need to understand how we can manage floods better, and that's not just building more flood defences. There is no ‘one fix’ to manage flooding. I’ve always looked on Flood Risk Management as a jigsaw of many pieces, all working together to reduce flood risk, involving many elements of proper land management, working with, not against nature. Thankfully, changes are beginning to be made, with ‘natural flood management’ approaches enhancing the sponge like capabilities of our uplands. Why on earth we continuing to build on floodplains is, however, beyond me – that is where the river naturally goes when it’s full! We cannot continue to build houses to flood, flood risk needs to be managed at a development level, as sustainable drainage can reduce flood risk and enhance our environment.
One thing I do feel passionately about is what we can do at a home level to reduce the impact a flood can have. It’s extremely important that we better prepare for floods. I continue to be struck by how many people, despite receiving a good warning of impending floods, had still done nothing to help themselves prior to the water coming in. We too can work with nature, by replacing paved drives with permeable paving and planting more ‘water thirsty green stuff’. Over the last couple of years, I have talked to many people who had been flooded who had taken moves to adapt their homes or businesses to reduce the impact a flood can have – you can read about this here -
I have heard lots of positive feedback on how people either didn’t flood or had been able to recover very quickly and indeed, one business based in Hebden Bridge was able to open again the very next day, rather than many months later! I encourage everyone newly flooded to think about ‘recoverable repair’, and to think about installing robust flood resilience products at a home or in their business, as this too is part of the flood risk management ‘jigsaw’.
I sincerely hope that these recent floods are a ‘game changer’, as with the huge and very real threat that climate change poses, we cannot continue pressing the snooze button and wait until next time!