When the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee released its recent recommendations for an overhaul of flood management, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. Sorry, Parliament.
After consulting with a range of witnesses, the report recommends a more holisitic and natural approach to “whole catchment” river management – from tree planting, to the installation of leaky dams. In doing so, it suggests that MPs have finally grasped something JRR Tolkien told us long ago: that good things come to those who look after the land.
How far the government will take these insights on board remains to be seen. But in the meantime, here’s five cheering ways that their recommendations echo the message of Middle Earth:
The fellowship of the floods: a new governance model
The committee’s quest for solutions led it all the way to the Netherlands, where local engagement with water management goes back to the thirteenth century.
Here they found inspiration for new national and regional models of government, such as an English River and Coastal Authority. The hope is that such an organisation will help “streamline roles and pool capacity” (their puns not mine).
The march of the Ents: increased tree planting
In The Lord of the Rings, the Ents are walking, talking treelike giants who help the people of Middle Earth defeat Sauron – and fewer verbal versions could soon be coming to the aid of a river near you.
Natural flood management trials, such as Pickering’s “Slowing the Flow”, are already reaping the benefits of new woodlands. While research funded by the Environment Agency has shown that strategic planting can reduce the height of flooding in towns by up to 20 per cent.
Tree-growing is no quick fix but in the words of Treebeard: “It takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say.”
All that glitters is not gold: new incentives for farmers
In Middle Earth, floods are only bad news for troublemakers. For the Fellowship, they are assets that destroy Sauron’s tower and prevent the ringwraiths from reaching an injured Frodo.
The committee appears to take this more postitive interpretation on board, with a suggestion that farmers be offered “appropriate” incentives to store water on their land.
The report also calls on the government to “make developers who fail to comply with planning requirements liable for the costs of flooding”.
Lighting of the beacons: improved warning systems
There is recognition, however, that catchement-wide flood management will still not cover all bases all of the time, especially in the case of “very extreme events”. So a number of recommendations also aim to help communities prepare for and cope with the effects of flooding.
One such measure is improved forecasting. This would entail greater use of realtime data in flood warning systems, such as that already being developed in Somerset.
The Return of the King: or Flood Commissioner
As with all good stories, the report completes its tale with a call for the annoinment of a new leader, in this case a National Floods Commissioner for England. His mandate? “One catchment to rule them all, and in the flooding bind them”.