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Wise use of floodplains - a demonstration of techniques to evaluate and plan floodplain restoration

Reference: LIFE99 ENV/UK/000203 | Acronym:



Past river management in Europe has drained floodplain wetlands and isolated rivers from their floodplains. Problems such as flooding, water shortages and over-enrichment of water have been made worse in places from this approach. In recent years many people have come to realise that rivers cannot be managed in isolation from their floodplains, nor can rivers and their floodplains be treated without considering the demands put upon them by agriculture, industry, nature conservation and other interests. The EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) aims to solve these problems by introducing integrated river basin planning and requiring Member States of the EU to meet new ecologically based objectives on the quality of water. The sustainable management of floodplains, a crucial part of the water cycle, is fundamental in meeting these objectives. Member States face particular problems in implementing the Water Framework Directive, in particular from: A lack of guidance on methods for appraisal of the effects of restoration and management options The need to align European and national policy to facilitate the implementation of the Directive A lack of guidance and case study examples of how to facilitate integrated planning and management A transnational partnership involving 16 partners in 6 Project Areas was set up in order to design and deliver a project to try and meet some of these needs.


The project was designed to help Member States implement the Water Framework Directive by demonstrating how floodplains and their associated wetlands can contribute to sustainable management of water resources within river basins. To achieve this, the project would: 1) Develop and demonstrate tools to: Model the effects of changing land management on water flow Identify the costs and benefits of different restoration and management options. Involve stakeholders in the appraisal and decision-making process 2) Determine how European and national policy would need to change to facilitate restoration of flood and coastal plain wetlands. 3) Facilitate planning and implementation of floodplain restoration across Europe through dissemination of guidelines and results.


The first phase of the project demonstrated the value of innovative methods and participatory processes to compare the social, economic and environmental costs and benefits of different floodplain management schemes, enabling stakeholders to identify the best options. These methods included focus groups, participatory rural appraisal, ?planning for floodplains mapping exercises?, and citizens? juries etc. They were used to ensure stakeholder involvement and ownership of the process even between groups of stakeholders with a traditionally adversarial relationship (farmers and conservationists). These techniques were tested within five areas (Forth, Erne, Charente and Somerset Levels and the Fens), with the sixth area focusing on the hydrological effects of floodplain wetland restoration (Cherwell). The Fens project also analysed the impact of policy and funding. In each area, project officers developed detailed work programmes, collected data to profile the floodplain and determined the physical suitability for wetland restoration. Studies were also carried out to provide social and economic profiles and analysis. The stakeholders involved were mapped and key groups identified. An appraisal framework was then applied to assess possible restoration and management options, allowing decision-makers to take account of: Technical feasibility, trends in water use and economic development, environmental objectives for river basins, including ecological priorities, policy and funding context, financial viability and stakeholders views. In the second phase, a wide range of tools were produced based on this experience, whilst in the third phase the findings and outputs were widely disseminated through organised fora at a national and European level, as well as through published reports, case studies, guidelines and web sites. The main results/outputs produced by the project include: A range of tools to aid floodplains managers to implement the Water Framework Directive, including: ? Participatory processes, Appraisal techniques, including the innovative ? Analysing Barriers to Change? (ABC) model, Hydrological modelling techniques, an overview guide for River Basin Managers. ? Establishment of an international communication network between stakeholders within the project ? An action plan for each area to promote options for floodplain wetland restoration ? A series of national and European workshops, looking at changes needed in policy and practice, written up in a report on ?Opportunities and Barriers to Sustainable Management of Water? ? Website disseminating and promoting the findings of the project ? The presentation of key recommendations for European policy and funding changes needed to implement the Water Framework Directive at national and EU level. In terms of environmental policy and legislation implications: ? The project has looked at methods of appraising the economic and social, as well as environmental, effects of floodplain management, and therefore makes a contribution to wider issues of sustainable development (in addition to environmental improvement). ? The project was set up to address water management issues in the context of European and national policy. In particular, as the project was designed specifically to help Member States with the implementation of the Water Framework Directive, its successful completion should be of long-term use throughout the EU. The project has innovation and demonstration value: ? Participatory methods to engage stakeholders in selecting preferred floodplain restoration and management options. ? The options appraisal trialled during the project had not previously been used in catchment context. ? The development of a sustainable appraisal technique in the Fenlands area, involving local resources and experts assisted by a facilitator. ? ABC analysis developed in Fenlands area and applied in other project areas. An equivalent logical step-by-step method to understand barriers and identify opportunities to overcome them was not found elsewhere in environmental policy analysis work. ? The development of the Wet Fens vision and strategy and its illustration on a map enabled stakeholders to see and participate in a way forward to achieving actual floodplain restoration in the most intensively farmed areas in England. ? Use of Local Sustainability Model in the Erne area to appraise floodplain management proposals. ? Examination of the costs and benefits of implementing the WFD, showing that the benefits of implementing the Directive exceed the cost. . According to information provided by the LIFE external monitoring team in 2005, the project?s recommendations for floodplain management have been fed into guidance notes developed by the European Commission and Member States to aid the implementation of the Water Framework Directive, and have formed the basis of lobbying in a variety of related policy areas. Teams running floodplain catchment projects throughout Europe are using the results of this project to shape their work, and work is being undertaken within the catchments targeted by the project to turn the project recommendations into real action. For more information, see the project website, which remains open at:


Reference: LIFE99 ENV/UK/000203
Start Date: 01/04/1999
End Date: 01/04/2002
Total Budget: 2,108,110 €
EU Contribution: 1,052,044 €
Project Location: Forth, Somerset, Fenland, Cherwell, Erne, Charente


Coordinating Beneficiary: The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Legal Status: OTHER
Address: The Lodge, SG19 2DL, Sandy, United Kingdom
Contact Person:

LIFE Project Map



  • River basin management
  • Public and Stakeholders participation


  • cost-benefit analysis
  • decision making support
  • integrated management
  • modelling
  • social participation
  • land restoration
  • flood protection
  • river management


  • Directive 2000/60 - Framework for Community action in the field of water policy (23.10.2000)


Name Type
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Coordinator
La Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux, (LPO), France Participant
Agence de l’Eau, France Participant
Ministre de l’Amenagement du territoire et de l’Environnement Participant
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,UK Participant
Scotland and Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research (SNIFFER) Participant
Environment and Heritage Service, Northern Ireland Participant
Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) Participant
Birdwatch Ireland Participant
Rivers Agency, UK Participant
Thames Water Utilities Ltd, UK Participant
Institution Fleuve Charente, France Participant
Region Poitou Charentse, France Participant
WWF International Participant
English and Welsh Environment Agency Participant


Type Resource
Brochure Guidance Notes: The Laymans Report
Brochure Hydrological Impact Assessment
Brochure Participatory Processes
Brochure Options Appraisal
Brochure Modelling the impacts of Floodplain Restoration
Brochure Policy Analysis
Project web site Internet Site
CD-ROM CD Rom with all published reports and powerpoint slides
Publication River Flow Scoping Study