Call James on 07973 796 406 for further information

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Current DEFRA regulations state that you can, in most cases, dredge ditches and streams that run through your land without permission or approval. Over dredging can, in fact, increase flooding and not reduce it as people have long believed.

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Increasingly frequent studies from many sources including; The Environment Agency, The Fresh Water Habitats Trust, BBOWT and The Rivers Trust state that dredging could well be increasing the flooding damage at bridges and in urban bottlenecks, not helping prevent it.

Many of these studies have shown targeted dredging can only ever have the potential to reduce flood risk when there is a sufficient understanding of how flood water peaks move through that particular water course. Without an understanding of this very complex picture, there is significant potential to worsen flooding.

We, as landowners, farmers and land managers should be ensuring that ditches, streams and small water courses that run through our lands are free of pollution but in my opinion we should leave the silt and vegetation in situ. By leaving water courses in a natural state when the courses are full this will produce small upstream floods, lessening the volume flowing down to larger rivers where the flooding can cause damage to towns, bridges and highways.

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Dredging can have significant direct negative consequences for ecosystems. For example, it can lead to loss of natural habitats and features such as pools and riffles. It can also impact on a range of protected species that dwell in riverbank habitats.

The dredged material is often deposited close to the river bank to enable the wildlife that was dredged out to return to the water, however although the best option for nature, it can be carried by rain straight back into the river. Alternatively the dredged material is left on the floodplain itself, this inevitably reduces the storage capacity of the floodplain and its ability to reduce flooding.

Other significant but indirect side effects are that the removal of vegetation from channel banks during the dredging process can increase water temperature by reducing shade, these warmer temperatures result in lower oxygen concentrations, making fish and invertebrates vulnerable hot weather. Dredging can also reduce the diversity and density of invertebrate species, which is likely to have knock-on impacts on fish, and subsequently on top predators such as otters and birds.

The impact of dredging on fish communities cannot be overstated. Removing gravels can damage vital spawning grounds for species of conservation concern, even where the spawning grounds themselves are protected, the displaced and/or increased sediment can damage eggs and smother juvenile fish.

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Dredging along and in riverbanks effects plant life far beyond the initial physical disturbance. The change in flow and channel characteristics can alter the structure of aquatic plant communities that are adapted to the flow and shallow water of natural channels. Dredging decreases soil stability along banks, leading to greater sediment input and bank erosion. Bare and eroded banks may be readily colonised by invasive non- native plant species, such as Japanese knotweed.

The impacts on habitats and species, including birds, can be dramatic. Surveys of floodplain meadows in England and Wales, revealed a large decrease in breeding wading birds like redshank, lapwing and snipe when the water course is dredged decreasing the flood plain and increasing the speed of water flow.

Over recent years have been involved in a number of freshwater projects, creating additional water courses, run off pools and wetland complexes that help absorb additional surface water. It is my belief that the only way to help reduce flooding is to invest in ensuring flood planes are protected and effectively managed for the wildlife which resides there and to ensure that the local environment is maintained. Dredging watercourses will only ever push the problem downstream.

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James Gillies MIgrAM

Suite C, Unit 1, Eagle Industrial Estate, Witney, Oxon, OX28 4YR

Phone: 07973  796 406
Email: Send me and email

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