A plaque was presented to a north Northumberland village this week to mark its award-winning flood-prevention scheme.
As previously reported by the Gazette, Belford’s Natural Flood Management Scheme – or leaky ponds – won a prize at this year’s ICE (Institute of Civil Engineers) North East Robert Stephenson Awards in April.
The partnership project between the Environment Agency and Newcastle University took the prize in the small category (under £500,000) at the awards, held to promote and reward excellence in civil engineering.
And on Monday, the scheme’s co-designers, Paul Quinn and Phil Welton, were back in the village to hand over the plaque.
The saga began in July 2007 when Belford suffered its fifth flood in two years and resident Geoff O’Connell kicked off a campaign to get something done.
Within six days of the story being published, Phil Welton of the Environment Agency contacted Geoff and revealed the blue-sky-thinking he’d been having with Newcastle University and their idea of installing leaky dams.
Expert knowledge of Belford’s drainage system was provided by local resident Ken Burn, retired engineer for Berwick Borough, and support was also given by then county councillor, Pat Scott.
Farmers were very co-operative in giving permission to erect more than 30 leaky dams down the rainwater flood plain over their land.
The dams are made from wooden posts from sustainable forests driven into the ground and linked to form a bund or wall – but with narrow gaps to allow dammed water to slowly leak down to the next leaky dam, instead of rushing down to cause the river to burst its banks.
Floodwater used to wash topsoil off farmers’ fields and carry it away downstream, but now it is caught up be the dams and can be reused.
Geoff said: “This has been a perfect example of a great idea which works for a very cost-effective price when compared with other massive concrete measures installed elsewhere.”
The flood-prevention work in Belford was highlighted as an example to follow nationwide, following severe floods in other parts of the country. Water experts called on Ministers to show greater leadership on flooding by promoting back-to-nature schemes which protect lowland homes by deliberately creating floods in the hills. It led to the Belford scheme appearing on BBC Breakfast News.
The scheme was also part of a five-year research project by experts from Newcastle University in partnership with the Environment Agency. The findings, which used Belford Burn as a demonstration, were published in the academic journal, Science of the Total Environment, and presented at the House of Commons Office of Science and Technology to inform the Government’s White Paper.