Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Understanding the effectiveness of natural flood management

We aim to improve understanding of the suitability and effectiveness of different natural flood management measures for a range of flood risk scenarios. This programme will support novel research on hydrological, sediment and geomorphological processes, and flood modelling.

up to £4 million
2017 to 2022
Partners involved:
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Defra, Environment Agency, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales, National Trust, ARUP

The scope and what we're doing

Natural flood management (managing flood risk by protecting, restoring and emulating the natural regulating function of catchments and rivers) has the potential to provide environmentally sensitive approaches to minimising flood risk, to reduce flood risk in areas where hard flood defences are not feasible, and to increase the lifespan of existing flood defences.

Natural flood management is being incorporated into flood management policy and a number of pilot studies are underway, however little research has been undertaken to determine the impact of natural flood management measures on the catchment as a whole or to quantify the effectiveness of natural flood management measures, particularly at the catchment scale. The aim of this programme is to support the novel research on hydrological, sediment and geomorphological processes, and flood modelling needed to address this knowledge gap.

The goal of the proposed programme is to improve understanding of the suitability and effectiveness of different natural flood management measures for a range of flood risk scenarios.

Specific research questions to be addressed include:

  • how effective are particular natural flood management approaches at reducing flood risk for events of different magnitude?
  • can natural flood management increase flood risk, for example from a different type of flooding or in a different part of the catchment?
  • can clustering natural flood management measures help to reduce flood risk?
  • how do natural flood management measures affect the movement of water through a catchment, including in periods of normal and low flow as well as high flow, for example, can natural flood management reduce the risks associated with both floods and drought?

The programme will support case studies that will explore the effectiveness of natural flood management measures in mitigating flood risk within the study catchments. There will be an emphasis on understanding how natural flood management can contribute to the development of catchment-level flood management plans.

The programme will investigate the range of risks in the catchments, including the risks from fluvial, pluvial and groundwater flooding, the risks in different parts of the catchments and how these are linked, and the risks associated with flood events of different magnitude.

Coastal flooding will be out of scope given the catchment focus of the programme.

The outputs of the programme will fall into two categories:

  • novel methodologies that can be applied to a range of catchments
  • location-specific information on flood risk that will be generated by case studies.

The novel methodologies are expected to be of particular interest to policymakers, measuring authorities, large landowners (such as the National Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), and environmental consultancies who have an interest in flood management in a number of regions.

Why we're doing it

Climate change projections indicate that total rainfall will increase in winter in the UK and, although total summer rainfall is expected to decrease, models are predicting that there will be a five-fold increase in high intensity rainfall events in summertime by 2100. As this will increase the likelihood of fluvial, pluvial and groundwater flooding the Committee on Climate Change has advised that more ambitious adaptation measures are needed to manage flood risk in the UK. In many areas adaptation measures will include natural flood management approaches, such as reducing flood risk by storing water, slowing water, increasing flow connectivity and increasing soil infiltration.

Natural flood management is part of flood policy; the Flood and Water Management Act (England and Wales) 2010 advocates natural flood management and the Flood Risk Management Act (Scotland) 2009 requires that natural flood management approaches are considered when designing flood management schemes.

The National Flood Resilience Review also notes that engineered flood defences can only ever be part of flood management and states that the government will base its funding for flood management on reduction in risk rather than the type of intervention to ensure that natural flood management can compete on an equal value for money basis with conventional engineered defences.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Who to contact

Ask a question about the programme

Daniel Knight


Telephone: 07928 668935

Michelle Manning


Telephone: 07826 903433

Last updated: 5 July 2023

This is the website for UKRI: our seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help improve our online products and services.