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Feb 20

On the radio this morning (16.02.16) I heard an announcement of a new category under the Britain-in-Bloom award for parks and gardens which have been affected by flooding this winter and have overcome adversity.  The idea is that the award ‘will celebrate the resilience of those who work to bring flood-hit community spaces back to life, as well as recognising the impact and challenges that communities potentially face’ (RHS, 05.02.2016).  Public parks and gardens are of course public assets and are managed for the common good of communities, often by the communities themselves but also by a legion of parks and gardens’ managers.  At Shipley we have been in discussion with the Parks Managers based at Robert’s Park about the Higher Coach Road River link which, along with Robert’s Park and various other spaces along the River Aire, was flooded in December (see http://multi-story-shipley.co.uk/).   

  

Ornamental water bodies are an essential component of many parks & gardens as this lily pond (left) Avigonon, France.  Many other parks are situated beside the water in river corridors, as in New York (right). 

This new category of award is an interesting one, because it uses the term ‘resilience’ in relation to those who work in the spaces, rather than the spaces themselves.  Many of the public parks and gardens situated along rivers are situated within the natural flood plain of the river.  So it is not really surprising that from time to time the areas are flooded.  The question is, how do we deal with this in the long term?  Particularly if the likelihood for many rivers is that we will see more flood events occurring.  Traditional flood meadows benefit hugely from annual flooding, gaining nutrients from the silt that is deposited.  Rivers also benefit from the scouring effect of big floods; silt and debris is carried away leaving the channels clearer which may also be beneficial for rowing clubs etc.  

Unfortunately much of what is deposited on the banks and floodplains these days is definitely undesirable.  On recent visits to rivers in Yorkshire and Northumberland the evidence of the flood height was very clear to me, not just because of the plant debris, but much nastier and more obvious, the plastic debris.  There are other things deposited which are even less desirable.  Some of the debris looks like artistic compositions of ‘found’ objects.  The sticks and compostable materials, like the silt, will break down and help to provide nutrients for the bankside vegetation, it may also provide nesting material for waterside birds and small mammals.  However when material like this is dumped by the floods in riverside parks, those working in parks and gardens face a considerable clean-up job (see for example Henry 2016), as well as a reconstruction job for damaged paths, fences, walls and fallen trees and eroded and unstable banks. 

    

After the flood: Debris at Upper Coach Road, Shipley (left) and Baildon Bridge (centre); Scoured Aire (right)

I wonder then, what a ‘resilient river park landscape’ could or should be and shouldn’t the Britain-in-Bloom assessment be considering the physical park as well as the resilience of the park-keepers?  Some riverside parks are very large and could perhaps be considered more clearly as holding areas for water in times of serious flood.  Some are already managed with this in mind.  But the pollution is a problem.  

The long term consideration is about adaptation to impacts, but it is not only the impact of flooding on parks and gardens which is of concern, but that the management and change in parks and gardens can exacerbate flooding.  It is well known that the increase in impermeable surfaces, particularly in urban areas through building development, is a problem because water runoff speeds increase and instead of seeping into the soil, water is gathered together and delivered into water courses.  While the use of SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems) can help to alleviate this problem and more local authorities are demanding that this be taken into account in planning decisions, there is a creeping problem with the change of small areas in cities that are often 'unseen'.  In a study in Southampton in 2014, Jennifer Warhurst and the aptly named Katherine Parks and colleagues carried out a study of front gardens in urban areas.  Their findings indicated that these spaces have seen a change in land cover in terms of a shift from permeable (grass and other vegetation) to impermeable surfaces (tarmac and paving) for car parking  This amounts to an average of 22.47% of land area over a twenty year period.  In addition the required attenuation storage volumes have increased by 26.23% and the study suggests that there has been an increase in flood risk in known flooding hotspots and that the ‘consequence of the conversion of gardens to parking areas will be a potential increase in flooding frequency and severity — a situation which is likely to occur in urban locations worldwide’.

   

City impermeable surfaces: New York (left), Newcastle upon Tyne (right)

It would be good to hear of examples where, for example, Heritage Lottery and other funding has insisted on a SUDS-type approach as well as a resilient landscape approach to the renovation and restoration of riverside parks and garden landscapes.

  

Water-holding and water permeable landscapes: Borth Bog (left) and Allotments in Kirkbymoorside, Yorkshire (right)

With regard to the plastic debris evident on riversides, this is only a small part of a serious problem highlighted in the news this week (Michael Sleazak in The Guardian,18.02.16).  In a submission to a Senate Enquiry held in Australia the Boomerang Alliance cited a study from 2014 which estimated that seafood consumers in Europe eat up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic each year as a result of eating fish which have plastic particles in their guts.  Anyone (human and non-human species alike) who eats fish needs to consider the likely impact the accumulated effect microscopic particles of plastic might have on their health and welfare, as well as the unsightly nature of ‘plastic trees’ and impacts on other vegetation evident in river systems throughout the world such as the Aire.  On a more positive note, the plastic invasion has one potentially beneficial impact: at Shipley and other places along the River Aire it has encouraged communities to get out and clean up; to come together to address both an aesthetic blight and a health hazard and by doing so perhaps make connections and have conversations about water, rivers, landscapes and rubbish.

 

January 2016 After the flood in Shipley: Not all species are unhappy about a flood


References:

Environment Agency (2013) Rivers by Design: Rethinking development and river restoration, A guide for planners, developers, architects and landscape architects on maximising the benefits of river restoration. Available at: http://www.ecrr.org/Portals/27/Publications/131223%20Rivers%20by%20Design.pdf [accessed 16.02.16]

European Centre for River Restoration (ECRR) Available at: http://www.ecrr.org/Publications/tabid/2624/mod/11083/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/3468/Rivers-by-Design.aspx [accessed 16.02.16]

Henry, E. (07.01.2016) ‘Post-flood cleanup to start at Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens’, Horticulture Week.  Available at: http://www.hortweek.com/post-flood-cleanup-start-plas-cadnant-hidden-gardens/parks-and-gardens/article/1378605  [accessed 16.02.16]

London Climate Change Partnership (2009) Summary Report: Adapting to climate change: Creating natural resilience http://www.lbp.org.uk/downloads/Publications/Climate%20Change/Adapting%20to%20Climate%20Change%20-%20Creating%20Natural%20Resilience [accessed 16.02.16]

Mayes Brook Restoration Project (2008-12): http://www.ecrr.org/Portals/27/Mayes%20Brook%20case%20study.pdf [accessed 16.02.16]

River Wandle Restoration Project: https://www.hlf.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/new-life-wandle [accessed 16.02.16]

RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) (05.02.2016) Awarding flood-hit communities: RHS Britain in Bloom judges will recognise communities that have overcome flooding.  Available at: https://www.rhs.org.uk/communities/community-blogs/community-gardeners/February-2016/new-britain-in-bloom-award [accessed 16.02.16]

Sleazak, M. (2016) Billions of bits of plastic waste threaten humans and wildlife, Australian senators told, The Guardian Thursday 18 Feb 2016, Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/18/billions-of-bits-of-plastic-waste-threaten-humans-and-wildlife-senators-told [accessed 20.02.16]

Warhurst, J.R., Parks, K.E., McCulloch, L., and Hudson, M.D. (2014) ‘Front gardens to car parks: Changes in garden permeability and effects on flood regulation’, Science of the Total Environment 485–486 (2014) 329–339. Available at:  http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/364471/1/Warhurst%20et%20al%202014.pdf  [accessed 16.02.16]

 

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