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OU research report recommends more effective use of UK floodplains

Shutterstock-1082438837 Floodplain

OU researchers contributed to one of four new reports on Natural Capital published this month (September 2018), which will enable governments and businesses to take an evidence-based approach to valuing the UK’s natural assets. 

Natural Capital refers to the assets within our natural environment that provide benefits for humans. Plants, animals, freshwater, soil, minerals, air and oceans all contribute to Natural Capital. The concept lies at the heart of the UK Government’s recently published 25 Year Environment Plan and is set to play an increasingly influential role in public policy and business decision-making.

The Open University’s Floodplain Meadows Partnership has been looking at the natural capital and ecosystem services delivered by semi-natural habitats in floodplains. 70% of English, Welsh and Scottish floodplains are currently in some form of intensive agriculture (arable, horticulture or intensive grazing) and 42% of rivers in England are disconnected from their floodplains. This means that nearly half of floodplains are unable to flood, and those that do are unable to absorb as much water, recycle nutrients and sequester carbon.

A recent grant from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology as part of the Valuing Nature Partnership has allowed the Floodplain Meadows Partnership to write a paper summarising these issues and making policy recommendations. Those recommendations are:

  • reconnection of rivers with their floodplains to allow them to flood and drain naturally;
  • a shift of land use on floodplains from intensive agricultural production to semi-natural habitats that can help to slow, store and filter water;
  • grassland management that promotes carbon and nutrient capture and enhances biodiversity, supporting pollinating insects and biological control agents of pests and diseases.

It is hoped that these recommendations will be used to help inform post-Brexit agri-environment schemes, where the Government focus is currently on delivery of public goods for public money.

Dr Clare Lawson, OU Lecturer in Environmental Sciences said: “It is really exciting to have received this grant. We have been able to examine the literature and refine it to show what evidence there is for natural capital in floodplains. We have found some very interesting case studies that demonstrate the financial and other benefits that can be gained from changing the way we manage land in floodplains.”

Read the news story

Find out more at Valuing Nature

Read more OU research in Environmental Sciences

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