In the aftermath of last winter’s floods, Professor Enda O’Connell FREng and Professor Jim Hall FREng argue that the UK needs a strategic and evidence-based approach to managing flood risk. This should combine engineering measures, land use planning, forecasting and warning, resistance and resilience, catchment management, and prioritisation of investment.
The floods during the winter of 2013/2014 were, in many respects, exceptional. The winter rainfall was the greatest across the UK since records began in 1766 and tide levels during the North Sea storm surge event from 4–5 December threatened much of the east coast in a manner similar to the devastating 1953 event. Even though the damage from the floods was less than in 2007, the duration of flooding, especially in the Somerset levels, drew widespread media and political attention. The subsequent media commentary focused on the dredging and potential benefits of measures to retain flood water in the uplands (known as ‘natural flood management’), frequently giving the impression that these could be the solution to our flooding problems.