CLIMATE CHANGE is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events such as flooding – and there is growing interest in 'natural flood management' as a means to lessen the impact of such events.

As such, the Tweed Forum’s Eddleston Water flood resilience project was of interest to delegates at the recent COP26 conference in Glasgow, some of whom travelled across the country to view its progress.

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Funded by the Scottish Government, EU Interreg and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and delivered in collaboration with the University of Dundee and the area's farmers and local community, the Eddleston Water Project, which this year marked its tenth anniversary, was described as being of 'international significance' for collecting evidence of the benefits of natural flood management techniques that increase the amount of water stored in the landscape.

Measures implemented across the 69km2 Eddleston Water catchment include the creation of 38 new ponds to catch surface water flow and hold water back. Over a hundred engineered log structures have been created on streams in the upper catchment. Built to allow fish to pass underneath, these slow excess water by directing it into land on either side of the river channel. Over 330,000 native trees have also been planted across the catchment. As well as having a positive impact on ecology and sequestering carbon, in time these will also aid water infiltration in upstream areas where floods are generated and will help to slow overland water flows.

Further downstream, some three kilometres of the Eddleston Water have been re-meandered. Straightened over 200 years ago, these sections of the main channel now contain more habitat for species such as salmon and trout, with deep pools, active gravel bars and newly planted trees increasing habitat diversity and also helping to provide cooler water to counter rising river temperatures and aid fish survival.

Recent results for the project have shown reduced peak water levels downstream during heavy rain as well as a delay of up to seven hours in the timing of river peaks, which gives people more time to prepare and take action. There has also been a recovery in the diversity and numbers of aquatic invertebrates which is currently being scientifically assessed. All of the measures have been introduced in partnership with local landowners, farmers and foresters to ensure that the work can be successfully integrated into their existing businesses.

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Tweed Forum director Luke Comins said: “Natural Flood Measures will not replace traditional, hard engineered flood defences, but they can augment them and increase resilience to extreme weather events. We were delighted to showcase this important project to COP26 participants and to be involved in an initiative that is providing vital evidence of the effectiveness of working with nature to deliver solutions that can be used in countries across the globe.”

Professor Chris Spray, of the University of Dundee, added; “The Eddleston Water is now a unique catchment laboratory that is already starting to demonstrate the types of approach that, when applied throughout a wide catchment, can appreciably reduce flood risk. The advantages for plant and wildlife biodiversity are also huge and while the full results will take many years, the benefits we have measured already are very exciting. We hope that the lessons learned here can inform work elsewhere and make communities, land and infrastructure more resilient to future flood events.”