Floods: Damaging to life, property - and the environment?

I am sure that you, like me, have felt nothing but sympathy and compassion for those unfortunate enough to have been affected by the recent floods. The PCA has been actively campaigning for years to help homeowners try and prepare for and mitigate against the potential effects of flooding, but even when such measures are implemented using gates/barriers/pumps etc., the severity of the floods we are seeing can often overcome the defences.

Some properties adopt resilience measures to reduce the impact of floods and these investments will help them get their properties back in service sooner than otherwise might be possible. But the emotional impact remains whatever strategies are adopted, and our sympathies go out to the families affected.

The consequences of flooding

What are the consequences of flooding other than the immediate inundation? There are factors like foul water contamination (human health), destruction of furnishings and fixtures, damage to and contamination of the fabric of the building and then, often least anticipated, the long process of drying that sometimes stops re-occupation for 6 months or more. The PCA can help property owners cope with many of these distressing problems and help ensure reinstatement uses products and processes which will tolerate any residual contamination or long-term drying out.

Flooding & the spread of invasive non-native species

But, going back to the title, “what about the environment?” We see TV and newspaper stories about the impacts of floods on wildlife too, but little or no mention of the enormous impact on the spread of invasive non-native species! This might seem a bit ‘niche’, but it is something that needs to be considered seriously.

The Environment Agency and private owners of land bordering lakes and rivers spend huge amounts of time and resource trying to reduce the negative ecological impacts of non-natives like Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam. These plants and others like Giant hogweed are also considered to be part of the flood risk equation – increasing the risk of flood events by clogging-up weirs/bridge abutments and generally reducing river flow rates.

Levels of floods are unprecedented

That would be bad enough if the flood plains were the same every year. We could identify the areas affected by non-native invasive plants/weeds and try to ‘get on top’, but this year we are hearing news that the waters are reaching new areas never flooded before and the levels and extent of the floods everywhere seem to be unprecedented. This means two things:

  1. Firstly the extent of river bank erosion will be higher than normal. This will bring knotweed rhizome (roots) and balsam/hogweed seeds downstream in greater volumes than ever before.
  2. Secondly, the flooded area is increasing so areas once free from infectivity by these ecologically damaging weeds will now be at risk.

This means we need to be vigilant. Once the water levels go down and the spring weather comes along we can expect to see new problems in floodplains and/or to any properties bordering affected rivers and streams.

We appreciate that most people are not invasive plant/weed experts but we do urge and request that PCA members be alert to this increased risk. Apart from the impact on guarantee liabilities in locations where e.g. knotweed has been imported due to flood events, in addition, any professional surveyors should be aware of the potential for knotweed infection at sites even where it doesn’t currently exist.

The elephant in the room

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. The ‘problem’ with floods are that they come and go from the headlines rather like the extreme rainfall that causes them. Once the water subsides the vast majority of people will forget about them, but the only way we will stop them (or more realistically stop their consequences) in the future is by keeping up the pressure on Government and other policy makers (planners!), to invest in catchment-level rainfall retention (trees, dams – artificial and natural e.g. beavers?) and intelligent planning and building strategies.

In the meantime however, PCA members can be at the forefront in terms of the mitigation and response to flooding, especially in the built environment, not just repairing and protecting buildings but looking out for invasive weeds too!

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