Flooding experts say Britain will have to adapt to climate change, and fast – ‘We have to realise we cannot defend at all costs’Posted by Jim at Saturday, February 01, 2014
By Damian Carrington
30 January 2014
(theguardian.com) – "You are looking at retreat," says Prof Colin Thorne, a flooding expert at the University of Nottingham. "It is the only sensible policy – it makes no sense to defend the indefensible." This assessment of how the UK will have to adapt to its increasing flood risk is stark, but is shared by virtually all those who work on the issue.
Centuries of draining wetlands, reclaiming salt marshes and walling in rivers is being put into reverse by climate change, which is bringing fiercer storms, more intense downpours, and is pushing up sea levels. Sea walls are now being deliberately allowed to be breached, with new defences built further back, and fields turned into lakes to slow the rush of the water, as flood management turns back towards natural methods.
Thorne says the strategy of once more "making space for water" has been around for a decade, but the urgency of implementing it has increased sharply. "We thought then we were talking about the 2030s, but it is all happening a heck of a lot quicker."
Large parts of southern England had their wettest January ever recorded, the Met Office announced on Thursday, and the Somerset Levels, much of which is below sea level, have been inundated for weeks. "I have enormous sympathy for these people," says Thorne. But he thinks the 1,000-year history of keeping the sea out of the area is coming to the end. "Can the Somerset Levels be defended between now and the end of the century? No," he says.
Hannah Cloke, a flooding expert at the University of Reading, agrees: "We could make the choice to protect the Levels forever, but that is going to take a lot of resources. My gut feeling is that you are going to have to let that be a marshland in the end. But people live there and have their livelihoods there, so it is very tricky." Cloke says greatest priority across the country is giving people the help they need to adjust to more frequent floods, from warnings and emergency planning down to home-level protection, such as water-absorbing green roofs and porous paving stones. She points to a small but growing trend of riverbank homes being raised on stilts.
"We have to realise we cannot defend at all costs. We have to adapt to climate change," says Professor Rob Duck, a coastal expert at the University of Dundee, noting that Hull, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Sussex and the Wirral are places at risk. "Building higher and higher walls is not the answer." Big flood defences often just shift the problem elsewhere, he says, or cause an even greater catastrophe when they eventually breach.[more]