The Thames Landscape Strategy has been granted £348,000 from the DEFRA funded Green Challenge Recovery Fund, matched by contributions from the partners and the Environment Agency to start the delivery of the Rewilding Arcadia project. Phase One of the scheme will see community and stakeholder consultation to inform the development of the delivery stage.
The purpose of the first phase of Rewilding Arcadia is to deliver and explain a series of nature-based flood risk management projects that are designed to restore the lost floodplain to re-connect water, people, heritage and wildlife with the natural cycles of the Thames (in normal times, during floods and drought). Rewilding Arcadia looks to achieve multiple landscape benefits, for the long-term, to ensure that local communities, businesses, landowners, agencies and river users are fully engaged with flood risk management policy and solutions to increase public understanding about flooding and the need for landscape change.
REWILDING ARCADIA: A SUMMARY
The purpose of Rewilding Arcadia is to deliver and explain a series of nature-based flood risk management projects that are designed to restore the lost floodplain to re-connect water, people, heritage and wildlife with the natural cycles of the Thames (in normal times, during floods and drought).
Rewilding Arcadia looks to achieve multiple landscape benefits, for the long-term, to ensure that local communities, businesses, landowners, agencies and river users are fully engaged with flood risk management policy and solutions to increase public understanding about flooding and the need for change.
By its very nature, the Arcadian Thames should be resilient to flooding, however, previous land use decisions have seen much of the wildness of the floodplain lost through historic modifications. As a result, the floodplain’s capacity to function during a flood has been greatly reduced. At the same time, public perception towards the purpose of ‘floodplain’ has shifted as spaces that were historically regarded as ‘wet’ were increasingly managed as ‘dry’ environments. There is a disconnection between the people that use the landscape with the natural world. To a large extent, the loss of the natural floodplain has not been a problem. Climate Change however, has altered the balance. The river is reclaiming its lost floodplain back; putting cherished landscapes, recreational opportunities, heritage and wildlife at threat as flood risk increases. The purpose of the floodplain and our relationship with it needs to be revisited.
The purpose of Rewilding Arcadia is to deliver and explain a series of nature-based flood risk management projects within the lost floodplain to increase public understanding about flooding and the need for wider long-term change. This is possible along the Arcadian Thames as the flood defences are situated a considerable distance from the riverbank resulting in large areas of open space, that although highly modified, are within the functioning floodplain (and as such at risk from flooding). The Arcadian floodplain is quite unique in this sense within the wider London metropolitan area.
Rewilding Arcadia does not set out to create large new areas of floodplain or to improve the existing flood defences. It is simply looking to restore the lost floodplain features to those areas that will flood already – the parks, towpaths, gardens and wildlife sites that are within the floodplain but not currently managed with water in mind. By explaining the process of restoration and the strategic policy behind the work to local communities, resilience to flooding can be maximised, strategic policy can be understood and flood risk delivery can be achieved on the ground with the associated benefits that this can bring including volungteering. This process will pave the way for the longer term landscape evolution that is needed.
INCREASING FLOOD RISK
The geographical scope of Rewilding Arcadia looks to the River Thames floodplain between Weybridge and Chiswick – a stretch of the Thames that is affected by tidal and fluvial floods or a combination of both. This makes flood risk management solutions complex and as such, policies to manage flooding are included in both the River Thames Scheme and TE2100 projects. The Arcadian Thames is downstream of proposed new flood relief channels and upstream of the high river defences that characterise the river through central London. Even the Thames Barrier will, over time, need to reduce its protection to the Arcadian fields in order to strengthen protection to Central London as climate change accelerates. What is wet now is likely to get a lot wetter therefore, the landscape and its users will need to be made ready to live with water. Rewilding Arcadia has been developed to sit alongside but add to relevant policies such those of the Lead Local Flood Authorities, borough climate change initiatives and catchment management plans – filling an identified policy gap.
Rewilding Arcadia proposes measures that cross borough and ownership boundaries with the primary goal of restoring a naturally functioning floodplain that is resilient to flooding and drought whilst explaining the processes that underpin this to a wide range pf people. Six strategic sites have been chosen for floodplain restoration to act as demonstration projects to guide future works. Each site has been selected to assist in the implementation of wider strategic plans such as TE2100 and the River Thames Scheme.
The six sites are: Desborough Island, Hurst Park, Home Park Water Meadows at Hampton Court, Canbury Gardens Kingston, Ham and Petersham and The Syon Reach in Richmond, Kew and Brentford. To begin, a series of demonstration projects have been identified at each of the six sites in order to pave the way for more substantial changes in the future. At the same time, RA will work in partnership with local communities, landowners and statutory agencies to develop the longer term aspirations set out in the relevant strategic plans.
PARTNERSHIP, OUTREACH AND ENGAGEMENT
Rewilding Arcadia provides a mechanism for engagement to explain a series of nature-based measures to reduce the impact of climate change and manage increasing flood risk. In this way, future changes to riverside open spaces can be fully understood and embraced by diverse voices including the need for associated engineered measures outside the scope of this project. Volunteering opportunities will be maximised wherever possible.
Rewilding Arcadia sets out to explain why nature-based solutions should be adopted in order to deliver multiple benefits that account for the multiple functions of such an important landscape such as the enhancement of recreational use, carbon capture and the protection of historic heritage. Long term management techniques such as the re-introduction of cattle on grazed wet meadows also needs to be explored.
The response to managing future flood risk along the Arcadian Thames will inevitably involve considerable change. To bring people along with strategic initiatives and to ensure that all local factors have been accounted for, it is crucial that riverside communities, partner authorities and river user groups understand what the long-term climate predictions are and, why particular measures are needed in response. This is particularly important in such a sensitive environment that evokes a strong emotional attachment from diverse groups of local people. It is only through a holistic approach to flood risk management, linked to real engagement with communities that future flood risk management proposals can be successfully implemented on the ground and communities can learn to live with water.
Rewilding Arcadia therefore offers a way to prepare the ground for change, explaining the likely impact of climate change, allowing an opportunity for local people to help shape future flood risk management measures – learning however, must be a two-way process. The project therefore offers a bottom-up approach to complement and add to top-down flood risk policies. This balancing act needs careful consideration and an organisation that brings together all the people, authorities and landowners that have a stake in its future. The Thames Landscape Strategy partnership does this and has an enviable track record in project delivery and engagement. The organisation has the support of all the main statutory landowners and agencies involved whilst its community group includes 280 separate societies and over 600 Friends. Its associated charity The Father Thames Trust has a good track record of fund raising for and managing large projects. It is proposed that the TLS will partner with Habitats and Heritage to shape and develop the Rewilding Arcadia scheme.