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New natural flood management scheme helps slow the flow in Rochdale

Posted: 09/07/21

Environment Agency Press Release 09/07/2021


  • New natural flood management features are helping to make the towns of Littleborough and Rochdale more resilient to flooding.
  • A series of interventions including tree planting, leaky barriers and clay bunds have been installed across the upper River Roch catchment with the support of landowners
  • Working hand in hand with the proposed multi-million pound Rochdale and Littleborough flood defences, the measures are designed to slow the flow of water upstream before it reaches urban areas downstream.


A project designed to slow the flow of flood water by using natural techniques has been completed upstream of Rochdale.

Delivered in partnership by Rochdale Borough Council and Mersey Forest, with funding from the Environment Agency and the council, the ambitious scheme saw the organisations work with landowners in the upper River Roch catchment to deliver innovative solutions to reduce the risk of flooding for homes and businesses in the Roch Valley.

The works involved construction of a number of ‘slow-the flow’ interventions including:

  • Storage basins and natural bunds. These will start to fill when water levels are high and then allow the water to drain slowly away once high flows have passed. When full they will hold 12,200 cubic metres of flood water storage (equivalent to 6 Olympic-sized swimming pools!)
  • In-channel features, such as leaky dams that will help to slow down the flow of water as well as supporting biodiversity. Some of the barriers have been created from trees felled during the first construction phase of the River Roch capital scheme, delivering reduced flood risk for the towns of Littleborough and Rochdale.
  • 13.9 hectares of wetlands and 14,900 trees planted. The scheme has created new wetlands and habitat features and boosted biodiversity.

These measures complement work to create flood storage and improved defences between Littleborough and Rochdale town centre which recently got underway at Gale, Littleborough. This scheme will reduce the risk of flooding to 1,000 homes, business and key infrastructure across Rochdale and Littleborough.

Rochdale Borough Council is also one of 25 local authorities across England to have successfully bid for government funding as part of the Environment Agency’s Flood and Coastal Resilience Innovation Programme. The funding will support projects to better manage surface water in neighbourhoods in Littleborough and central Rochdale, including flood resilience support for individual properties.


David Brown, Flood Risk Senior Adviser for the Environment Agency said:

“Natural flood management uses and enhances the natural landscape to hold back floodwater peaks to reduce flood risk downstream. Here in Rochdale, the new features will work hand in hand with traditional engineering solutions to reduce the risk of flooding to homes, businesses and infrastructure across the catchment and will help make Rochdale and Littleborough more resilient to climate change.

“It’s really exciting to have completed what is an innovative approach, using private land kindly volunteered by members of the community, which provides benefits for flood risk management and significant opportunities for wildlife.”


Sara Rowbotham,  deputy leader of Rochdale Borough Council and cabinet member for climate change and sustainability, said:  

“We’ve successfully brought tens of millions of pounds of funding into the borough, as well as investing council funds, to bring forward a number of schemes to reduce flood risk and manage the impacts of flooding, and this is another important piece of that jigsaw.

“Innovative schemes like this, which see us work with the natural environment to manage flood risk, are a crucial part of our overall flood management strategy and also help support bigger projects further downstream, such as the River Roch flood alleviation scheme in Littleborough that we are working with the Environment Agency to deliver. These interventions, from the small to the very big, collectively have a huge impact and are making a difference to thousands of residents and businesses across this area.”


Mike Norbury, NFM Project Manager for the Mersey Forest said:

“Together with the National Flood Forum, members of the flood action group and kind land owners we have put back many of the lost natural features of the landscape which have vanished over recent centuries, including woods, swales, ponds, leaky dams – both earth and willowed ones. These measures slow the flow of floodwaters, store carbon and create wildlife havens. In this project, we have only gone some of the way to re-naturalising the landscape, with positive flood risk reduction results from one of our monitored sites, yet there is still further to go with forthcoming climate change impacts”

The government last year announced a record investment of £5.2bn to better protect 336,000 properties, through the creation of around 2,000 new flood and coastal defences, in England by 2027.