The Performance of Natural Flood Management at the Large Catchment-Scale: A Case Study in the Warwickshire Stour Valley

Tom Lavers, Sue Charlesworth, Craig Lashford, Frank Warwick, Jana Fried

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The limited understanding of Natural Flood Management (NFM) performance, especially at large hydrological scales, is considered a critical barrier for the further funding and implementation of these nature-based solutions to the increasing international problem of flooding. The publications of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report and Environment Agency’s National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy (NFCERMS) for England have shown that extreme weather, including increased likelihood of high magnitude flood events, will occur and will require more novel management methods. This study focused on the ability of
co-designed NFM measures to ameliorate downstream fluvial flooding by attenuating catchment response through a highly spatially distributed network of attenuating and roughening measures.
Performance was characterised by the ability of NFM to attenuate flood peaks at different spatial scales across a large (187 km2) dendritic catchment, including the lowering of flood peaks and delaying the time-to-peak. Using a coupled modelling methodology and applying it to the upper Stour Valley, Warwickshire-Avon, UK, a rural response to the application of a set of NFM interventions
was developed using the hydrodynamic model Flood Modeller Pro and XPSWMM ©. The method demonstrated a means of incorporating local knowledge in a realistic set of NFM schemes, tested to multiple flood risk scenarios (including climate change). Under frequent, smaller design storm events (e.g., Index Flood (QMED) and 3.3% AEP), flood peaks were lowered across all hydrological scales tested (5.8 km2 to 187 km2). As the design flood event severity increases, impact from upstream NFM attenuation on downstream peak response diminished significantly, especially at the largest hydrological scales. However, even at the largest hydrological scale, delays in time-to-peak were noted, increasing the ability of downstream communities to respond and enact flood preparation
activities, thus increasing resilience to potential flooding events. While the benefits were limited to large flood events, the modelling indicated that NFM has the potential to reduce downstream flood risk. However, greater integration of observed data to improve model confidence and reduce uncertainty in modelled events is needed, especially the uncertainty associated with using single
peaked design storm events from the Flood Estimation Handbook (FEH). This paper proposes a future Before–After Control–Impact (BACI) monitoring programme that could be integrated with models and applied across non-tidally influenced catchments seeking to empirically test the hydrological performance of in-situ NFM.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3836
Number of pages17
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (


  • Natural Flood Management
  • computational modelling
  • peak attenuation


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