Flood protection: could well-placed trees, woodlands and forests be the answer?

Did you know that around 2.4 million homes in the UK are at risk of flooding? These homes are in the immediate danger zone and, as global warming continues to heat the planet, the number of houses facing this problem is only going to get bigger. But there is a way we can limit the damage, and it all starts with trees.

The Role of Trees as Natural Flood Protectors

It is no secret that trees can naturally reduce flooding. Scientists have known for many, many years the role forests play in keeping surrounding areas safe from being overrun with water, and they know why too. For example they know that because of their tall and broad canopies, trees can reduce the speed the rain hits the ground and thus slow its runoff.

Also the soil under trees is often less compacted, thanks to a tree’s root network which can more easily channel the water directly down into the soil, further aiding with drainage. This high-absorbing soil also leads to less sediment falling into the water and causing clogs downstream, maintaining the free flow of rivers to deal with heavy rains.

How Much Can Forests Reduce Flooding?

Measuring how much forests can reduce flooding is not an easy task. Most studies have analysed smaller-scale floods and focused on how felling trees may contribute to the damage caused. The results, though, are complex and show that many factors affect just how well trees can reduce the impacts of a flood, including:

  • The size of the flood

  • How large the forest is 

  • The size of the catchment

  • How the forest is managed (clear-felling will drastically reduce the benefits)

The type of tree used can also play a role in how well a forest deals with flooding. Conifers, for example, are better at reducing flows of water than broadleaves because of a higher canopy that intercepts water as it falls, aiding evaporation.

Can You Place a Value on The Benefits?

Despite being difficult to measure, we know that forests are a fantastic way to reduce the impact of flooding. One report shows how water retention in soil increases as the extent of forest cover does. On land with a total forest cover of 10%, water retention sits at 25%. Where forest cover increases to 30%, that figure more than doubles to over 50%, showing that the trees are playing a vital role in holding water. Because of this, our government continues to invest in trees and forests as part of a sustainable approach to keeping our homes safe from floods.

Encourage Sustainable Forests With EcoChoice

If you are using timber in your construction projects, you can help protect the forests in the UK and around the world with EcoChoice. We have a wide range of timbers from responsibly managed forests, helping to increase the trees in our country whilst still providing everyone with the timber they need. Get in touch with our team to find out more today – we will be more than happy to answer any questions!

Image: Anna-Nas / Shutterstock.com

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