Flooding in the Don Catchment: a Natural Flood Management perspective

In this blog we hear from DCRT Natural Flood Management Officer, Debbie Coldwell. Read on to find out how the natural approach to flood defence could help to better protect us in the future.

November 2019 was a devastating month for many within the Don Catchment. More rainfall fell in 24 hours in some areas than normally falls over the entire month at this time of year. Hundreds of people have been flooded out of their homes and vast expanses of land left underwater for prolonged periods. Unsurprisingly, this has led to a lot of questions about the causes of flooding, and what can be done to reduce the risk in future. A good summary by the BBC is available here. Issues around dredging and hard engineered flood defences (e.g. flood barriers) in particular have received a lot of attention, as has the role of more natural flood management methods.

don sheff

One of the main issues with both hard engineered solutions and dredging is that they are not sustainable. With climate change, we are expected to experience both more, and higher intensity storms and we cannot simply keep dredging deeper channels and building bigger walls. A much wider approach needs to be taken that includes these traditional measures of flood defence, in combination with management throughout the whole catchment that helps to capture and “slow the flow” of flood waters. There are a variety of ways that this can be done, and it is generally referred to as Natural Flood Management. This includes measures such as tree planting, which can help to increase evaporation of rainfall and allows more water to be absorbed into the soils beneath them. Temporary storage pools can be created in the landscape that fill during heavy rainfall and drain away slowly, delaying the time it takes for this water to reach our river networks. Leaky woody dams can be placed within streams and rivers, helping to slow the speed of water both in the channels as well as causing it to spill out on to vegetated banks that also slow flows. Soils on farms can be improved to better act as sponges, capturing more water and reducing the amount of top soil washed away with knock on benefits for agriculture. If this kind of management is done at a great enough scale throughout the landscape, then it can help to reduce both the maximum height of flood waters and the time it takes for those flood peaks to reach downstream populated areas, allowing more time to prepare.

A Leaky Dam at Collingham Beck

There are lots of other benefits of NFM too. For starters, it is generally much cheaper than more traditional flood defences and by taking some of the pressure off these walls and barriers, NFM can also help to increase their lifespans, providing further cost savings. NFM can also help to better water quality by filtering out sediment and pollutants, improving our rivers and reducing water treatment costs. NFM can also provide lots of habitat for wildlife and help capture carbon dioxide through the planting of trees and improving soil health, for example.

A flood water storage pond at Manor Fields

This is why DCRT support the NFM movement and took me on in April this year. I’ve been looking into the potential for NFM schemes in and around the Chesterfield area in the Upper Rother Catchment and there is an awful lot of opportunity! Development of plans on council owned land is underway and we’re also hoping to work with many private landowners and managers throughout the catchment. NFM works best by having as many features as possible throughout the landscape to help capture and slow down the movement of water as it travels downstream. Each individual measure doesn’t have to be very big, it’s the cumulative effect of water being slowed down and held back across a wide area that helps to reduce flood risk.

It is important to recognise that NFM cannot stop flooding. After prolonged periods of heavy rainfall, NFM features will be overwhelmed and no longer able to hold back further rainfall, which is when more traditional flood barriers come into play, and these too can be overtopped in the severest of cases. Ultimately tackling climate change, which is increasing the number and severity of storms is essential in reducing flood risk. NFM, however, if done over a large enough area, has an important part to play in reducing the risk from many storms that would have otherwise lead to flooding. So if you own or manage land in the area and would like some advice on how you can help contribute to slowing the flow, do get in touch!


‘River Champions’ schools project – year two update

Over summer we spent some time with schools in Sheffield and Doncaster delivering year two of our ‘River Champions’ project funded by the Brelms Trust (https://www.brelmstrust.org.uk/). The grant enabled us to engage 146 young people  living in disadvantaged areas in Doncaster and Sheffield. This allowed us to go into schools and teach them how to become custodians of the river through a program of environmentally orientated lessons. Pupils learned about the ecology of the river told through the story of the mayfly enabling them to build a model of the river in the classroom and seeing mayfly nymphs metamorphosise before their eyes.

Schools were also invited out to a field visit to the river; this is something disadvantaged schools have limited funds for, particularly for coaches. During their visit to the river classes had the opportunity to do some river dipping, seeing what invertebrates live in the river. During the field trip we delivered ‘Yellowfish’ – a EA project that aims to teach pupils about how pollution affects the river ecology and how they can help stop pollutants entering the river system. This proved to be an engaging method of making the link between human activity and environmental impacts.

This project hopes to inspire the next generation of environmentally-conscious young people by broadening their horizons and stimulating new interests, in turn having an impact in the physical environment of their local areas. The grant contributed towards staff costs, pupil’s transport and tank equipment. We would have not been able to deliver this project without the grant funds from the Brelms Trust.

A few comments from the teachers that took part in this year’s project:

“They loved it, it is not something we do enough of in school so this opportunity was very welcome”

“They had little knowledge due to it not being taught during the curriculum so having these sessions really improved their knowledge and encouraged them to ask questions to learn even more”

Y6 Teacher at New Pastures Primary


“The facilitators were very knowledgeable and shared a lot of information with the children.”

“Children understood the life cycle of the mayfly and were able to identify the different stages”

Y4 teacher at Watercliffe Meadows Primary School

If you know of a primary school that would be interested in taking part in this project in Spring/Summer 2020 please get in touch with us at info@dcrt.org.uk or call us on 01302 439081. This is the last year this project will be fully-funded so take the opportunity to access these classes for FREE whilst they’re still available.


Water and wine in Chesterfield

In this blog we hear from Catchment & Archive volunteer Antony Meadows, read on to find out about his most recent discoveries!

I’ve been volunteering now with DCRT for more than 18 months, but for most of this year I’ve been spending more time in Chesterfield with the Hidden Heritage Secret Streams project. I don’t live in the town but I’m only half an hour away, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to discover somewhere new. I’ve really enjoyed it; I had no idea there were so many rivers and streams in the town. I’ve been prompted to look at old maps of Chesterfield to put where we’ve been into some historical context, as it’s quite difficult to imagine what was there in the past especially when you are not local.


Antony has been exploring Chesterfield Library’s archives for old maps!

Discovering Chesterfield’s industrial past has been fascinating. I knew about the glass industry as my father had a chance to transfer to Dema Glass from where he worked at Glass Bulbs in Harworth. He didn’t go in the end, or else I might have been brought up in Chesterfield. One thing I wasn’t aware of though, was the local pottery industry. This neatly brings me to the reason for this blog.



One of the things I enjoy about litter picking – as well as the sense of achievement when we clean up an area and have left it in a better state than when we arrived – is the possibility of finding something interesting or unusual. Basically I’m nosey I guess! Recently I found a few items of pottery that I thought were interesting. First up was a piece of a brown saltglaze jar, the type of thing you can often see in antique shops which you can use for storing utensils in for example. Luckily I found the best bit of it as it had an inscription, “W Cooper Wine Merchant Chesterfield”. I contacted Chesterfield Museum who found an entry in Kellys Directory for 1895 showing a William Henry Cooper, provisions dealer and wine merchant, listed at 11 Holywell Street, Chesterfield.


I’ve also found two other pottery items that turn out to be from ceramic water filters. The first one had enough information written on it to discover, via google, a company called Brownlow of Tonbridge who manufactured water filters in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I found more pieces of this as you will see in the photo, but few of them fitted together, unfortunately. Finally I also found a fragment of pottery with “Fract” and more enigmatic wording. Not hard to guess this might be Pontefract, but I couldn’t work out what the rest of it might mean. I contacted Wakefield Museums and they told me my piece was also part of a water filter. They kindly sent me this photograph of a rather nice example in Pontefract Museum, and my bit is part of the elaborate decoration. Apparently Chesterfield potteries made water filters for many companies so it’s possible they could have been made there.

After this I’m hoping to find more interesting things along Chesterfield’s rivers!