An Eye on Our Environment Using Natural Resources to Reduce Risk of Flooding
Monday 11th February 2019 @ 13:59 by Tom Greggan
Comment Community News Tameside

Guest author
Lee Rawlinson

Area Director for the Environment Agency’s Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire region, writes for Reporter and Chronicle Newspapers.


Over the last few months, there has been one subject that has clearly dominated the news and indeed the thoughts of many of us across the UK. I am of course referring to Brexit.

One of the biggest concerns for environmentalists is sustainability. Can we continue to be sustain-
able for both our environment and the people that work with us to help care for it? 

The answer, from certainly my own perspective, is yes. For me the Environment Agency is synonymous with protecting your environment, so much so that I often think if the media moguls in Hollywood decided to make a feature length film about my team across Greater Manchester Merseyside and Cheshire, it could only be titled ‘The Guardians of the Environment.’ 

For decades, all of us here at the Environment Agency have had a single primary purpose: to create a better place and we have worked, often tirelessly to achieve that. Let’s take the example of Regulated Industry. 

Starting work on the leaky barrier

In the North West, we have a proud industrial heritage, but it is one that has a huge impact on the economy and the environment. It is our job to ensure the environment is protected by issuing permits and ensuring businesses comply. If they choose not to, we will, quite simply, take every action necessary to ensure that they do or that they cease all operations. 

Of course, we also have our own directives to follow. This includes legislation that is already firmly in place to protect our air, land and water such as the 2008 Climate Change Act which requires us to reduce our emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. 

The Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan also sets out our goals for improving the environment within a generation and leaving it in a better state than we found it. It details how we in government will work with communities and businesses to do this.

One aspect of the plan is the goal to significantly reduce all types of marine plastic pollution and eliminate avoidable plastics. 

In our offices in Warrington our Sustainable Business Team has already risen to the challenge. Simple changes such as supplying aluminium drinking bottles for our Field Operations teams and removing our catering plastics have made a significant impact on our plastic pollution footprint. Catering plastics, for example, were withdrawn from Environment Agency canteens in April 2018 and we are now saving more than 20,000 single use cups for coffee and water each year!

For me, another significant part of our 25 year plan is the commitment to better protect 300,000 homes against the risk of flood. 

We have already made great strides against this target with some of our flood alleviation schemes across Greater Manchester, but one part of our programme of work which really interests me is using ‘soft engineering’ to restore and recreate natural features in the countryside to slow down and store water to help reduce flooding.

Natural Flood Risk Management techniques are something of a hot topic for our teams around Greater Manchester at the moment with several projects scheduled over the coming months, including one on the iconic Smithills Estate near Bolton. 

The Smithills Estate natural flood management scheme is being carried out through a partnership between the Environment Agency and the Woodlands Trust. The project involves storing flood flows upstream on areas of the estate that will enhance the environment through providing habitat, whilst helping to reduce flood risk downstream.

Works conducted so far include the construction of a 30m long, one metre high wooden debris dam or ‘leaky barrier.’ The barrier is the first of around 24 such barriers proposed for this project and is a staple of many natural flood risk management schemes.

These clever dams use trees from the surrounding landscape to allow some water through but also holds some back when the watercourse is flooding. The leaky barrier on the Smithills Estate is designed to hold back up to 150m3 of flood water or the equivalent of a double decker bus, and will help to reducing the risk of flooding to around 30 properties downstream in the Smithills community. 

Some of the team members show of their new eco-friendly aluminium water bottles.

However, in my experience, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to flooding and the same can be said for sustainability. We know that, whatever happens with Brexit, our job is to do the best we can for the people and places we serve and the environment we are here to protect. The people factor is a big issue for me as I would like to think that when we refer to our ‘people,’ we are not just looking at the interests of our communities, but also our own staff, and even our future staff come to that! 

Since our launch 24 years ago, the Environment Agency has
prided itself on creating jobs that are not only sustainable but have the room needed to grow and involve. 

Come what may with Brexit that priority hasn’t changed. Just last week, Stonewall published their Top 100 Employers list for 2019 and the Environment Agency has leapt a further five spaces to be ranked 13th in the country and still one of the top government employers! 

This is an outstanding achievement and one that I am particularly proud of as only a very small number of organisations can claim this level of consistency and improvement when it comes to equality for all. 

It is telling that environmental and conservation jobs are often highly sought after, among graduates in particular. 

I believe that this is partly down to the favourable working conditions but also for the fact that when it comes down to it, we all want to be Guardians of our Environment and for what it is worth, here in Greater Manchester Merseyside and Cheshire, we are always willing to welcome new recruits.

You can get more information about the work of the Environment Agency or what’s going on in your area by following Twitter @EnvAgencyNW.