Pioneering work to slow the flow of water from the Quantock Hills down to the Somerset Levels is being funded by Somerset Rivers Authority.
The project is partly a reaction to three unusually intense, localised storms that raged near to West Bagborough, and over Aisholt Common and Great Wood, last May. Around 1,200 tonnes of soil and gravel were washed down gullies, blocking roads and culverts which it then took weeks to clear.
Andy and the volunteers have been out on the hills getting their hands dirty, fifteen woody dams have been created along four gullies. Also sections of silver birch trunk laid down in gullies, to hold back water and debris on Aisholt Common. The project is a partnership between Quantock Hills AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group SW (FWAG SW) and Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA). The SRA is using Growth Deal money from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership.
The SRA say “We’ve now approved more than 90 applications for natural flood management schemes in the upper and mid catchments of the River Parrett and the River Tone, but this is the first time we’ve funded work on top of the Quantocks. The more of these schemes we have, the more we can reduce flood risks, so it’s excellent to keep spreading the net.”
It follows consultation and advice in the scheme design with Roy Hayes, a Natural England Catchment Sensitive Farming expert currently on secondment to FWAG SW. Mr Hayes said: “A lot of works have been done in places that it’s difficult for members of the public to see, but as these woody debris dams are on Open Access land on top of the Quantock Hills and close to the Samaritans Way South West, we’re hoping they’ll serve as more visible demonstrations of what can be done to Slow the Flow.”
Silver birch trees have been chosen for felling and use in dams because they are an invasive species encroaching upon an open heathland Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Removal provides more light for ground flora and opens up grazing for Commoners.
Our ranger Andy Stevenson adds “This pilot project is focusing on Aisholt Common, but we’re looking to do a lot more next autumn and winter, possibly trialling some other techniques, such as using rolls of coir matting – made from coconut husk fibres – as permeable barriers. With Slow the Flow and with the removal of Silver Birch, we’re taking the same approach. It’s about getting on top of a problem.”
Georgie Grant - April 2017