Managing Flood Risk

As we enter a period of intense climate variability, awareness of our environment is becoming a more important issue, as is the potential threat posed by flooding.

As a result of this, a growing number of national and international research groups are beginning to shift their focus onto the matter of flood risk management. As an island nation, surrounded on all sides by vast expanses of water, nowhere is flooding if greater concern than here in the UK. But it isn’t just the risk of flooding from seas that we face, nor is it just the rivers, lakes and reservoirs; we are also under threat from the skies above our heads and the ground below our feet. Now is certainly not the time to go without flooding insurance.

It might seem a long time ago now, but the UK has been ravaged by coastal flooding before. The worst coastal flood our country has seen in living memory came in 1953, where storm surges in the North Sea drove immense waves across our coastal defences and devastated the East of England. The same event did not stop with the UK, but also sent savage floods sweeping across northern Europe. Holland, being particularly flat and low-lying, took the brunt of the barrage. 307 people were killed in Britain, 100 were lost at sea, and a staggering 1800 were left dead in Holland. 1,400 miles of British coastline was affected by the flood, destroying 200,000 acres of farmland and rendering 21,000 people homeless.

In the decades following the 1953 event, our coastal defences have been improved considerably. Thankfully this meant that they were better suited to face the severe storm in 1978 and a widespread deluge was avoided, though many coastal towns still endured varying degrees of damage only one death was recorded. Modern defences are even more formidable still, but households in the UK are still far from being safe. An estimated 12% of the populace are still housed on fluvial flood plains, with pluvial or flash floods continuing to threaten many more.

The more low-lying areas around mountainous regions are particularly at risk from flash flooding, where excessive rainfall or ice/snow melt can quickly develop into a disaster. The most recent flash flooding in the UK occurred in 2004, where the town of Boscastle was ravaged by fast flowing water. Extreme river flooding in 2007 took 14 lives, displacing tens of thousands of people from their businesses and homes, resulting in around 300billion pounds worth of damage. This episode inspired the recent ‘Exercise Watermark’ project, where emergency responders were tested to see how the country might stand up to similar large scale flood disasters in the future.

The present focus of most flooding research is aimed at settling people in areas that are less at risk from suffering should a severe flood event unfold. This is unlikely to be of much comfort to the millions of us currently living in areas at risk, but it does provide hope for the future. People who have previously endured flooding, or are at risk of encountering a flood in the future, are likely to find it hard to get home flooding insurance at a reasonable price. Though it might require additional research, there are still specialist home insurance providers out there who can offer competitive flood risk insurance, even to those living in a high risk area.