Rural Sustainable Drainage System (RSuDs)

Organisations are looking beyond the traditional engineered approach to flood risk management and taking a natural catchment approach to flood management.

The Environment Agency and other groups and organisations concerned with flooding are looking increasingly to the natural landscape to help provide greater protection from extreme weather. The cost of constructing natural flood defences, such as leaky dams and catch pools, is much lower than engineered and hard flood defences and the structures fit well within the landscape and can be constructed through community groups, such as local flood action groups.

In 2015 the CCRI worked with Stroud District Council to tackle floods and help wildlife on the streams of the Stroud valleys. Instead of spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on concrete and steel structures, it has been using trees and other natural features to reduce the risk of flooding in the area. Leaky dams have been built to help to slow down the momentum of water flowing down the hills into the valleys and increase the infiltration into the soil, thus reducing the risk of flooding. The dams are made by laying loose logs and wooden debris across the river, which, as well as slowing the flow of water, also provide habitats for wildlife.

Working with local land owners, natural flood defence structures have been built in the headwaters of the Slad Brook and Painswick Stream. Stroud District Council released a film which was produced in partnership with the CCRI and Antony Lyons about the project and its work with local communities. (Stroud Rural SuDS Project short film taster).

Over 60 individual natural flood defences have been constructed with many more due to be built this year. The cost of the work is much lower than engineered and hard flood defences and the structures fit well within the landscape.

Project Manager, Chris Uttley, with Del Jones of the GloucestershireWildlife Trust

“Sustainable drainage systems have been in use in the built-up environment for a number of years now and this project uses these same principles but on a much larger scale.

The overall aim is to reduce flood risk, improve water quality and restore wildlife. We are using a wide range of natural flood management techniques, including the building of large woody leaky dams across streams, excavating dry ponds and diverting flood water into natural soakaways.

Some structures work by spreading water over the neighbouring land, others act like baffles, physically slowing down flood flows. All the structures provide great habitats for wildlife, reduce the amount of silt travelling downstream and importantly, slow the rate at which floods travel down the valleys, lowering the peak water height”

Chris Uttley, Stroud District Council

The scheme, known as the Rural Sustainable Drainage System (RSuDs), was funded by the Severn and Wye Regional Flood and Coastal Committee. Stroud District Council was the lead partner on the project. Gloucestershire County Council and the Environment Agency were also involved.

The project has also built strong links between local residents, landowners and local organisations.

Project worker, Chris Uttley, receives the ‘best green film’ award on behalf of the team at the Stroud Oscars on 9 March 2016

Project worker, Chris Uttley, receives the ‘best green film’ award on behalf of the team at the Stroud Oscats on 9 March 2016. Photo by courtesy of James Banks

“The university and the CCRI in particular were delighted to work with the Stroud Rural SuDS project to develop the film. The project is such a good example of involving the local community to understand the issues and work towards a solution. Over time there will be multiple benefits not just for the local communities but for the environment and landowners as well.”

Chris Short, CCRI

In March 2016, the film won the ‘best green award’ at the fourth Stroud Community TV awards. From over 2,200 films, the public had nominated their best films in seven different categories.

“To win this award was a real pleasure and the comments of the judges showed how impressed they were. This is a testament to the really productive working relationship between Chris Uttley, the project officer in Stroud, and Anthony Lyons who was the Artist in residence at the CCRI. The strong community connection in the film that was noted by the judges really showed through as a number of people who featured in the film were present for the awards.” The film is called “Rural Sustainable Drainage – Natural Flood Management in the Stroud Valleys”

Chris Short, CCRI

Antony Lyons spent a year as the CCRI Artist in Residence, supported by a Leverhulme Fellowship grant for a project called Sabrina Dreaming. Visit Sabrina Dreaming blogspot for more information.

CCRI has been involved in extensive research in flood and water management. Some of the projects are listed below:

  • Upper Thames Pilot Catchment,
  • Sustainable flood memories and the development of community resilience to future flood risk: a comparative study of three recently flooded communities (ESRC award)
  • WILD

For more information on the Rural Sustainable Drainage System, please contact Chris Short:

Public Lecture – Natural Flood Management: Letting nature do what natures does

On 25 February 2016, Chris Short presented a public lecture at the University of Gloucestershire on natural flood management, much of it based on his work in the Rural Sustainable Drainage System project. Chris also talked about how farmers are changing their farming practices to become more resilient to changing weather patterns by looking to the soil, and how householders can contribute to natural flood management by constructing ‘rain gardens’ at their properties.

Read more about Chris’ lecture.