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  • by Karma Loveday

Atkins’ study reveals water storage potential of whole farm landscapes

Identifying the water storage potential across whole farm landscapes could help us cope with both drought and flood, according to a new study from Atkins.

Early results from the research have indicated there is potential to store millions of litres of water per hectare in the soil, using a “whole farm reservoir” concept, with benefits for the public water supply and flood risk as well as farming and ecology.

Funded by the Environment Agency and Essex & Suffolk Water, a team of ecologists and hydrologists from Atkins carried out the study over six months at the Spains Hall Estate in Essex, to identify zones across the landscape that could be used for storage of rainfall and river water.

Environmental scientist at Atkins, Emily Brown, said: “The results of the initial study were extremely encouraging with a 5-10% increase in river flows during the summer months, where there would normally be drought. In winter, the measures could lower the risk of local flooding by between 15-30%.”

She added: “The work we’ve carried out at Spains Hall Estate is an approach that could be rolled out across the country to provide greater resilience in the UK’s water supply and flood risk management efforts, through the use of nature-based solutions on farms.”

Estate manager at Spains Hall, Archie Ruggles-Brise, said: “Numbers are key, if we want to optimise our system to benefit the farm and the wider environment we need to know which actions are likely to have the greatest reward.

"We need those numbers to engage with other sectors, without them farms are too easily discounted as irrelevant by drought and flood professionals. The results are incredible. With the potential to store 6Ml to 10Ml of water per hectare in our soils – adding a measurable amount to both summer river flows and winter flood risk reduction – it shows this is something we should be doing now.

“The next step is to find partners to work with us to plan and deliver these changes, to quickly move beyond theory and into practice.”


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