Press Release – 27 April 2018

FWAG SouthWest Hills to Levels Project Awarded the National 2018 UK Rivers Prize

The national UK Rivers Prize has been won by the Somerset Hills to Levels Project for its three years of pioneering flood prevention work. The UK River Prize celebrates the achievements of those individuals and organisations working to improve the natural functioning of our rivers and catchments. Ahead of winning the overall award, Hills to Levels was selected as a finalist for the Rivers Prize after winning the ‘Catchment-scale Project’ category.

Hills to Levels, which was set up after the devastating 2013/14 Somerset floods, is a holistic catchment management approach, aimed at joining the hills with the floodplains across the catchments. By working with natural processes, Hills to Levels is helping ‘slow the flow’ to reduce flood risk, reduce erosion and diffuse pollution, as well as improve wildlife habitats and the wider landscape. Hills to Levels aims to make changes with small-scale interventions which will have an effect at a large catchment scale, with the message that ‘every field, every farm, every stream has its part to play in flooding and water quality’.

Sabine McEwan, FWAG SouthWest Resource Protection Adviser working on the project, has said “We are absolutely thrilled to have received this award for all the hard work the Hills to Levels team has delivered over the past three years. This achievement was only possible because so many farmers, landowners and local communities got involved, gave up some of their land for natural flood management schemes and were happy to try new techniques. Watch this space – we are planning a celebration party this summer!”

The success of the Hills to Levels initiative is in the working relationships between farmers, landowners and partners, whether it be for local knowledge, technical advice and knowledge sharing or funding support.  Hills to Levels works with local councils across Somerset, the Environment Agency and Natural England (Catchment Sensitive Farming), Somerset Rivers Authority (funders) and shares knowledge with similar organisations in Belgium and the Netherlands (through the European Union funded Interreg project Triple C).

Alongside winning the 2018 UK Rivers Prize, earlier this year Hills to Levels was recognised in the recent Governments’ 25 Year Environment Plan. The plan states that ‘The drained, farmed landscape of the Somerset Levels provides a testing case for working with natural process, one which local partners have risen to address’ (page 53 of the plan).

On March 21st 2018, the Hills to Levels project was also awarded the Duncan Huggett Award for the Environment at the Flood & Coast Project Excellence Awards. In their citation, the judges praised Hills to Levels for being “A unique partnership of farming and conservation charities working together to reduce flood risk whilst encouraging nature and growing high quality food.”

Cllr John Osman, Chair of Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA), said: “I am delighted to see all this national recognition for the pioneering national flood management work that’s being done in river catchments across Somerset. The SRA has so far approved funding for more than 130 Hills to Levels schemes, using Growth Deal money from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership and money from council tax. No single scheme will ever solve all of Somerset flooding problems but – project by project – we’re making people safer and protecting homes, businesses and the environment. Better land management is a key part of Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan and I’d like to thank FWAG SW for all their hard work delivering improvements, and all the farmers and landowners who’ve hosted schemes for taking part and doing their bit to help reduce flood risks across the county.”

Hills to Levels has visited over 400 farms; 41 of these farms have received advice on soil management which will contribute to restoring the catchment’s natural hydrological functioning. Our grant funding has enabled us to deliver 453 schemes. Of these, an estimated 25,000m3 of floodwater can be stored in leaky ponds. We have also planted over 11ha of woodland across slopes and on floodplains, as well as planting 1656m of hedges to slow the flow. A growing figure of 232 leaky woody dams have been put in place across headwater streams.

Hills to Levels was awarded the 2018 UK Rivers Prize for the projects enhancements in restoring the natural functioning of our watercourses. The project started in 2015 and is continuing to grow and gain momentum.







Notes to editors

Press release from FWAG SouthWest.


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