Severe flood risk on River Severn continues. What about the future for the UK with climate change?
Blog by Jo Farrow
25th February 2020 14:25

Severe flood risk on River Severn continues. What about the future for the UK with climate change?

The River Severn has severe flood warnings in place once again. A danger to life as river levels peak with heights not seen before on record. This follows a wet autumn in 2019, particularly for eastern and central England and two major storms earlier in February 2020, Ciara and Dennis. These dumped huge amounts of rain in the river catchments one weekend after another, with more rain falling, seemingly every other day, in the weeks in between.

Sir James Bevan was on BBC Radio Four this morning talking about future flooding and this event, which is not over yet. He is the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency for England. (at 1:09min). "The top priority is protecting lives and property"

He explained that "the climate emergency is bringing a higher risk of flooding" It will increase with more severe weather events and heavy rainfall (in the warming atmosphere). There were many parts to flood defence. Upstream protection, making space for the water, natural methods; the ground covering, planting trees, curves in the flow to slow the progress of the water coming down the hills.

River Severn river levels

The recent deluges racing off hills and mountains hit south Wales and resulted in a red rain warning from the Met Office on Sunday morning 15th. Many of the larger rivers respond in a slower fashion but still with a mass of water making its way to the sea.

There also has to be good defences for existing homes. "We have to be realistic, most of our towns and cities are built on flood plains". The UK and global population is rising, more people are living on their own. The need for more housing isn’t stopping but where to build them all? Bevan mentioned that building along some coasts was no longer suitable with rising sea levels, and there were other areas, like flood plains that shouldn't really be built on with the issues from climate change. If they "had to be used, there is no realistic alternative, then it mustn’t enhance anyone else’s flood risk. "

Climate change flooding UK

Personal resilience and adaptation have to add to the govt/council/community responsibility. If people do buy a new build on a flood plain area, home insurance may be rejected due to the existing flood risk.  The housebuilders aren’t going to mention it, councils will say they are being pressured by Govt to build X new houses somewhere. For those already flooded, it can render homes unsellable. There are maps on all the Environment Agencies websites showing some of the risks from river/coast and surface water flooding, as an initial heads-up, read the small print. 
New medical practice in Nottinghamshire by the River Trent with flood design for ground floor undercroft. 

New build surgery by River Trent flood risk

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For areas that do flood, they need protection and that is what the Environment Agencies spend a lot of time doing, before and during flood events. Communities are being asked to step up their resilience and adapt their way of life and businesses. Even homes in the aftermath of flooding and strive to recover and get back to normal quickly if/when it happens again. In the design and planning stage, areas needed to be resilient to the flood risk. This isn’t going to go away and although the UK weather will vary month on month or year by year, the climate situation only looks set to get more extreme.

"We can protect most of the people most of the time but we can't protect all of the people all of the time " Bevan EA

Travel generally isn’t having great coverage at the moment with the carbon emissions from flights in the spotlight, bushfire images from Australia, the Calima sandstorms for the Canary Islands and ongoing Coronavirus epidemic. More locally, for towns and high streets trying to keep their businesses going against the online bargains, these flood images and ongoing media stories of submerged streets, travel chaos and closures are a nightmare. For all of these destinations, it is not just this week’s footfall that is hit, it will be next month or next year in the future choices of where to go.

The cost of protection is huge and the cost of the clear-up is significant. People on the ground need to rest, those helping and working at the flood sites and for those who have dirty stinking water in their homes, the psychological impacts will continue for a long time. Along with the fear of when it will happen again. 


More people in the UK are living alone. The number of people living on their own went up by 16% to 7.7 million between 1997 and 2017, while the UK population increased by only 13%. By 2039, the number of one-person households is projected to rise to 10.7 million ONS

Winter and autumn rainfall UK

Winter 2019/20 was drier than average. January 2020 around average with NE Britain being drier, especially E. Aberdeenshire. February 2020 has been very wet in parts of the UK, the figures will be out early next week (with the extra 29th)

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