Government opens UK’s biggest flood management scheme

The Environment Agency has today (8 September) completed the UK's biggest ever coastal realignment scheme in Somerset to protect local businesses from future flooding.

The Steart Marshes flood management scheme, developed in partnership with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), involved the construction of a giant saltmarsh which will naturally absorb wave energy, protecting people and property from storm surges.

WWT’s chief executive Martin Spray said: “We need to be brave and bold if we are going to deal with the impacts of climate change. WWT Steart Marshes proves you can protect homes and businesses by using wetland technology that works with nature, not against it.

“Climate change is here now. Last winter was the wettest on record and we suffered the worst storms for 20 years. I want to give full credit to the villagers of the Steart Peninsula for getting behind this idea, helping to shape it and helping to save the peninsula from being lost to rising sea levels.”

The project involved half a million cubic metres of soil being dug up and moved to create new and improved flood banks after the extreme weather of 2013/14 caused havoc for communities and businesses in the South West.

The newly excavated 200 metre gap in the Parrett Estuary coastal embankments is being managed as farmland and a nature reserve and should become a nursery for commercial fish stocks such as sea bass. It will also the protect newly constructed flood banks from erosion so that they last longer.

National infrastructure

Environment Agency project manager Richard Cox said: “Over 200km of coastal banks around the Severn Estuary reduce flood risk to more than 100,000 homes and businesses, a benefit valued at £5bn. There is an ongoing need to maintain these structures.

“The Steart project will directly protect homes, businesses and the surrounding infrastructure. The National Grid power lines into Hinkley Point power station are a key element of the national infrastructure protected by the scheme.

“Saltmarsh is a natural flood risk management scheme. Like coral reefs or mangroves in the tropics, saltmarsh takes energy out of the tide and reduces wave height. At Steart Marshes the new flood embankments are set behind hundreds of metres of saltmarsh which will reduce the impact of high tides on them, bringing down maintenance costs and prolonging their life.”

The completion of the Steart Marshes scheme means the Environment Agency can now continue its maintenance of flood risk schemes elsewhere in the Severn Estuary that protect more than 100,000 homes and businesses.

Luke Nicholls

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