Flood for Thought!

January 10, 2017

Flood for Thought!

The flooding season is nearly upon us and as we begin 2017 we felt that it was opportune to highlight a report conducted in 2015 by Confor and Forest Research entitled The Role of Productive Woodlands in Water Management. The report primarily demonstrated the role that trees can play in lessening the likelihood of floods and alleviating the damaging consequences of unhindered rainfall runoff. The report also highlighted the significant potential improvements to the water environment and a range of additional economic and environmental benefits resulting from upland tree planting in areas prone to flooding.

Their report made some interesting and worthwhile conclusions.

“There is an increasing case for more tree planting for flood alleviation. While the different ways that trees can contribute are well understood, some continue to call for more convincing evidence before we act. However, the reality is that we will probably never have enough data to satisfy everyone, while our climate is changing and more rainfall and bigger storm events are expected.

Many countries around the world have made the connection between deforestation and erratic water supply and flooding. In Kenya, for example, the Government has specifically protected upland forests, because it recognises their role in regulating runoff and ensuring water is available during the drier summer months.

Recent events show that we cannot simply rely on traditional engineering approaches to protect affected communities from flooding. Planting trees won’t work overnight, but has the potential to make a significant contribution to tackling the climate change induced rise in flood risk. More trees can help restore the natural capacity of our landscapes to attenuate flood flows and should be part of a long-term strategy. At the same time, tree-planting creates rural employment, increases biodiversity and carbon sequestration; and produces a product for which there is an infinite demand – timber”

From an Irish perspective Irish forests play an increasingly important role in mitigating Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. We should also note that new forest planting at 6,000 hectares per annum is significantly behind the Government target of 20,000 hectares per annum and this has been the case for more than a decade

A longer term focussed approach to planting upland forests close to flood-prone areas should be a priority for the Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency which will have the added benefits of helping to achieve national planting targets and mitigating our greenhouse gas emissions. After all, it is easier for a Hen Harrier to flap its wings and move to pastures new than for a family or an elderly couple to relocate from their flooded home.