Understanding the Effectiveness of Natural Flood Management


Natural flood management (NFM), managing flood risk by protecting, restoring and emulating the natural regulating function of catchments and rivers, has the potential to provide environmentally sensitive approaches to minimising flood risk, to reduce flood risk in areas where hard flood defences are not feasible, and to increase the lifespan of existing flood defences.

NFM is being incorporated into flood management policy and a number of pilot studies are underway, however little research has been undertaken to determine the impact of NFM measures on the catchment as a whole or to quantify the effectiveness of NFM measures, particularly at the catchment scale. The aim of this programme is to support the novel research on hydrological, sediment and geomorphological processes, and flood modelling needed to address this knowledge gap.

The programme has been co-designed with Defra, the Environment Agency, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales.

Announcement of Opportunity: Understanding the Effectiveness of Natural Flood Management - Outline bids

Closing date: 21 Feb

12 Dec 2016

Outline research grant applications are invited for the Understanding the Effectiveness of Natural Flood Management programme.

Climate change projections indicate that total rainfall will increase in winter in the UK and, although total summer rainfall is expected to decrease, models are predicting that there will be a five-fold increase in high intensity rainfall events in summertime by 2100. As this will increase the likelihood of fluvial, pluvial and groundwater flooding the Committee on Climate Change has advised that more ambitious adaptation measures are needed to manage flood risk in the UK. In many areas adaptation measures will include natural flood management approaches, (ie reducing flood risk by storing water, slowing water, increasing flow connectivity and increasing soil infiltration).

Natural flood management is part of flood policy; the Flood & Water Management Act (England & Wales) 2010 advocates NFM and the Flood Risk Management Act (Scotland) 2009 requires that NFM approaches are considered when designing flood management schemes. The recently published National Flood Resilience Review also notes that engineered flood defences can only ever be part of flood management and states that the government will base its funding for flood management on reduction in risk rather than the type of intervention to ensure that NFM can compete on an equal value for money basis with conventional engineered defences.

The goal of the proposed programme is to improve understanding of the suitability and effectiveness of different NFM measures for a range of flood risk scenarios.

Specific research questions to be addressed include:

  • How effective are particular NFM approaches at reducing flood risk for events of different magnitude?
  • Can NFM increase flood risk, for example from a different type of flooding or in a different part of the catchment?
  • Can clustering NFM measures help to reduce flood risk?
  • How do NFM measures affect the movement of water through a catchment, including in periods of normal and low flow as well as high flow (eg can NFM reduce the risks associated with both floods and drought?)

The programme will support case studies that will explore the effectiveness of NFM measures in mitigating flood risk within the study catchments. There will be an emphasis on understanding how NFM can contribute to the development of catchment-level flood management plans. The programme will investigate the range of risks in the catchments, including the risks from fluvial, pluvial and groundwater flooding, the risks in different parts of the catchments and how these are linked, and the risks associated with flood events of different magnitude.

Coastal flooding will be out of scope given the catchment focus of the programme.

The outputs of the programme will fall into two categories; novel methodologies that can be applied to a range of catchments, and the location specific information on flood risk that will be generated by case studies. The novel methodologies are expected to be of particular interest to policymakers, measuring authorities, large landowners (such as the National Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), and environmental consultancies who have an interest in flood management in a number of regions.



Can I apply for a grant?

No, there are no current grant funding opportunities for this programme.


Up to £4 million is available for this programme.

Programme Awards

Award details are shown in our online grants browser – Grants on the Web

View details of funded applications

NERC, the Environment Agency and Defra held a jointly organised workshop for researchers and users from policy, local authorities, business and non-governmental organisations in June 2016, to define the priorities and scope of this research call.

The report from the programme can be found below:

NFM programme report (PDF, 174KB)