UK: Flood defences: how willow proved to be a natural defender

Source(s)
Guardian, the (UK)

By Helen Pidd

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Twenty-five miles up the road, by the River Derwent near Keswick, Steven Clark, a sheep farmer, was bracing himself for the worst after Storm Desmond. But while nearby bridges had collapsed and the army had been called in to help 5,500 people flooded out of their homes, Clark’s farm in the village of Braithwaite was fine. The year before he had been persuaded to take part in an experimental project with a paper mill in Workington, which involved planting 28 acres of willow crop. He is convinced it saved his land.

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Clark had planted the willow the previous year and it wasn’t yet ready for harvesting. But it had already paid dividends in terms of flood mitigation, slowing the flow by intercepting rain and impeding the flow of water over ground and in the soil.

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Based upstream from Cockermouth, which was badly affected by Storm Desmond, [Jan Wilkinson, a farmer near Cockermouth,] sees her new crop as performing a community-service role, catching debris before it hits the town and slowing the speed of water on the floodplain. The money will be nice when it comes, she says. “But there’s more to life than pound, shillings and pence. This is making the land more productive and it’s more ecological.”

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