IT’S no secret that Stroud has long been at the forefront of a number of leading green schemes and projects – it’s one of the Five Valleys' defining features.

The district council is one of the first local authorities in Europe to render its operations completely carbon neutral and it funds a number of award-winning sustainable and eco-friendly enterprises.

But among all these achievements, there is one highly effective and ground-breaking venture that other council’s across the UK are trying to copy.

And yet, despite its success, this scheme is perhaps the one that goes unnoticed and under the radar the most. In fact, many people won’t even heard of it at all.

This pioneering development is Stroud Rural Sustainable Drainage (Rural SuDs) - a Natural Flood Management system that works to reduce any risk of flooding in the Five Valleys.

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For the last three years it has quietly been working away in the green hills, farmland, woods and streams in the valleys encircling Stroud.

It is a network of low impact natural anti-flooding techniques that works to restrict the progress of water through a catchment by making the landscape more difficult for water to flow through.

The architect of this intricate web and the person responsible for co-ordinating the scheme is Chris Uttley. Since the project began, he has been busily working with landowners, community flood groups, farmers and partner organisations to implement this pioneering project.

“Think of it like a hose pipe,” said Chris. “Flooding occurs when the pipe is turned on for too long and the water levels get too high.

“Rather than just trying to put our finger in the end of the hose to stop the flow of water coming out, we want to tackle the flow at its source. We try and turn down the tap.

“This involves changing the rate at which water from the Frome Catchment flows down into the streams around the district and then down to the River Frome.

“The idea behind this is basically catching, trapping or slowing the water. Effectively we want to create small scale flooding in some remote places to stop flooding further down in the valleys.

“There are a number of different methods we use, but they all trying to do the same thing, slowing the flow to reduce flooding. There are currently about 280 different structures spread around 14 sites in the district, from the Slad Brook and Painswick Stream to Nailsworth Stream, Holy Brook and the River Frome itself.

“We work directly with the landowners to implement the scheme, including tenant farmers, the National Trust and the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. Many of our schemes are built by the farmers and woodland owners themselves with our help or by Wildlife trust staff.”

One of Chris’ methods of doing this is by creating bund or dry pools to create artificial temporary channels.

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When the water is trapped behind the bunds and spread out over a wide area at shallow depth, it helps infiltration, the process by which water soaks into the soil. If the ground absorbs more of the water, it reduces surface runoff and less can flow downstream.

“Another method we use and one that people may have seen is by using tree trunks and branches to act as ‘leaky dams’ or flow diverters,” he continued.

“In normal weather, the stream can flow freely underneath, but after heavy rain, they form mini dams all the way downstream – kind of like beavers would.

“These look very unassuming, but cumulatively they can slow a large amount of water helping to slow the rate at which flood waters travel down the valleys.

“These kind of mechanisms are set up at varying points in the fields, woodlands and waterways of the Stroud Valleys.

“On their own the tiny pieces don’t seem like they have much effect. But together they form a network that can effectively reduce flood risk and improve the environment for wildlife.”

And while it’s impossible to say whether the anti-flooding system has helped prevent major incidents in the Stroud valleys, it is clear that the Rural SuDs has had a beneficial effect.

“March 2016 was the worst period of heavy rainfall we’ve experienced in the last few years,” continued Chris, who has a background in countryside and water management.

“Roughly half the monthly rain fell in the space of 12 hours. The Environment Agency was predicting flooding in the area and some places were bracing for the worst.

“Because of the simplicity of the measures we’ve built, we don’t have sophisticated data to measure their effectiveness.

“What we can tell though, is that there is no doubt that our techniques have had a beneficial effect and that over the last three years have contributed to reducing risk for residents.”

The last of these “major” incidents – as many in Stroud will remember – came back in 2007 and proved to be among the most damaging floods in Stroud in a generation. (Rowcroft surgery pictured below)

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“The plan for Rural SuDs came after that flooding wreaked huge damage to parts of the town, particularly Slad Road,” added Chris.

“At the time a number of community groups established in the Slad, Painswick and Frome Valley to discuss a way to stop this happening again.

“A number of options were considered but due to the landscape and physical nature of the catchment in these locations expensive engineering solutions were not feasible – especially due to the heritage and aesthetic value of the Stroud valleys.”

Instead, the council chose to pioneer a low-cost and low-impact project that over the last few years has become one of the largest of its kind in the UK.

“That is another really great thing about the Rural SuDs scheme,” explained Chris. “Compared to larger engineering works it costs only a fraction of the price.

“In fact, the Rural SuDs scheme is actually completely cost neutral for Stroud District Council, as it is funded from the Regional Flood and Coastal Committee for the River Severn & River Wye.

“We only use natural and low impact methods that do not cost a great deal to implement. Plus, we are directly employing local landowners and contractors to carry out works, meaning the economic benefits are also good.

“The result you get from investing such a small amount of money has been quite ground-breaking.

“SDC has had other local authorities from across the UK come to see the sites and learn how to implement them back home.

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“So far it has seen huge interest. We had a group of people from Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, which flooded badly last year, down a few days ago to learn about the different techniques we use hands-on.

“We’ve also been working closely with the Environment Agency, Forestry Commission and the University of Gloucestershire to spread these techniques.

“To me it just seems like common sense. If we can reduce flood risk, help the environment and create new habitats in a way that is sustainable and low cost, then why wouldn’t we?”

This unique scheme is the reason why nearly 200 people will be attending a special conference organised by Stroud District Council and the University of Gloucestershire on January 25.

People from a wide range of organisations will be converging on the University to hear more about how the Stroud scheme works and how they can start to implement similar works themselves in their communities.

“It must be said that these methods are in no way pioneering in themselves,” added Chris. “People have understood how to build sustainable drainage systems for year, we are just extending those techniques into the wider countryside.

“But for a council to fund the work on a fairly large scale is a first in the UK. It’s just another way that Stroud is leading the way forward and it’s something we’re quietly proud of.

“Another huge bonus is that this is all helping the local environment by restoring biodiversity. Creating temporary pools and encouraging more infiltration helps to clean the water so when it does eventually flow downstream, it is a lot clearer.

“In turn this means we have to do less dredging, which of course means we can save money in the long term. Creating pools and leaky dams in the river also helps the stream and woodland ecosystems.

“Cleaner water flowing at a slower rate helps create better environments for fish to lay their eggs. It also helps insect populations.

“All of this is done with no visual damage to our wonderful landscape. Everything we do is done to look as natural as possible.

“In fact the chances are that you wouldn’t even notice some of the techniques in place even if you walked straight past them. The beauty of them is that they can continue to work seamlessly and quietly without much upkeep.”

All in all, the Rural SuDs project is a real success story for Stroud.

It’s a great example of how effective it can be when public bodies, landowners and local communities work together to address the issue of flooding.

This is what can happen when co-operation, ingenuity and cost effectiveness go hand in hand with sustainability and environmental protection.

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  • The project is always looking for more willing landowners and farmers to work with. If you think you might be able to help, then please contact Chris on

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