Footage on the news this morning is distressing, writes Avon Needs Trees CEO Dave Wood, with homes flooded, people displaced and lives and livelihoods at risk.  Extreme flood events are becoming more frequent, and will continue to do so as our climate continues to change. What can be done to slow this down?

Major flood events have always been part of life in the UK. Community memories of 1968, 2007 – and locally, 2012 – are viscerally strong.  Continued climate change is making these extreme flooding events more frequent. UK government spending was over £1bn on flood risk management in 2021 alone. Yet the devastation many are currently experiencing shows that as a country – and indeed, as a planet – we are still not doing enough.

Our natural world knows many methods to slow water’s passage, for example: healthy soils are more able to drain rainwater away; woodland canopies catch raindrops and slow their journey to the ground; natural bogs and wetlands hold extra water for long enough to keep downstream rivers from becoming overwhelmed. Even the way twigs and leaves become stuck along a wooded stream can lead to the natural formation of leaky dams, which hold water back and can delay water from reaching flood risk spots.

Over time, many of these defences have been taken away.  We’ve lost half our woodlands, helpful wet areas have been concreted over and farmers under economic pressure have had little choice but to farm intensively, compacting or worsening the structure of the soil.

There are 5.2 million homes currently understood to be at future flood risk. More homes will be built in flood risk areas. When you factor in the potential impact upon schools, workplaces, transport networks, the trauma for those affected, and the real risk to human lives – the damage is already immeasurable and growing all the time. What can be done?

There are calls for the UK to better mitigate flooding: from slowing climate change and building more concrete flood defences, to improving drainage around roads and houses and being careful where homes are built.  There are also communities working hard to manage flood risk – including volunteer flood wardens, such as those in Chew Magna, and charities like the Rivers Trusts improving the health of local watercourses.

The need to return to natural flood management (NFM) to mitigate flooding earlier is widely recognised.  However, despite welcome moves to fund NFM, amounts of current funding are just a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed, and pales in comparison to amounts spent on investment in concrete flood defences. This, despite quality natural flood management interventions offering an extraordinary range of other benefits that are also urgently needed, like protecting biodiversity.

Flooding in Chippenham


Avon Needs Trees was established based on the catchment of the Bristol-Avon river, to create new woodlands to both slow climate change by storing carbon in trees and to use natural means to help mitigate flooding. The urgency of our work feels particularly salient today.

We will be launching an appeal for help to purchase a new site this month. It will be our largest-scale woodland creation project to date. The Environment Agency has assessed our early plans would create “significant impact” on downstream flooding. It is an exciting project to have been developing, and truly special. Keep an eye out for more news on this soon.

The intense, early behind-the-scenes work to get these essential projects off the ground is not covered by any of our funders. We rely on the generous help of our supporters to fill this gap.  Click here to find out more about making a regular donation to Avon Needs Trees.

There is action you can take to slow the flow of floodwater:

Volunteer to plant some trees this month

Learn more about natural flood management and what you can do at home

Contact your local Council to find out if they are developing a natural flood management action plan.


Image credit: Dave Wood, Nick Murry