SPONGE 2020 is a European funded project that brings together organisations from different countries in the EU to tackle water-related effects of climate change. Climate Change, while being a global phenomenon, will show impacts primarily on a local and community level. In the UK, increased risk of flooding, including surface water flooding, is one of the biggest threats from climate change and is unlikely to be addressed sufficiently by existing hard infrastructure.In the UK, two demonstration regions – Somerset and Southend-on-Sea in Essex – are working on different aspects of these effects. Until 2020, Somerset County Council is collaborating with Westcountry Rivers Trust to develop innovative, nature-based solutions together with stakeholders to address surface water flooding and related problems in different urban areas in Somerset.
There are many ways in which we can give nature and all the beautiful, important functions it provides a space in our cities, while allowing positive development to take place. Somerset SPONGE was born out of a recognition for the important role that local communities have in taking inspiration from and working with nature to shape places for everyone.
Find out more about the partners in Somerset, the issues we want to tackle and what role you can play below.
Nature provides many benefits to us – some of them we know about and are very aware of, and some of them less so. We are increasingly becoming aware of the many ways in which our lives are improved through nature, and – especially in towns and cities – green spaces. However, it is often hard to defend nature’s space in areas that need to provide so many other things to humans, like houses, schools, roads, shops or hospitals. Towns and cities are growing, and more and more land is built on, sealing off soil and reducing natural areas in already built-up spaces. While this seems inevitable to provide the growth and infrastructure we are looking for, we need to make sure we don’t cut out another important part of our infrastructure in the process: Green Infrastructure.
The network of parks, gardens, road verges, street trees and all the other natural bits – big and small – that we find in our towns are crucial to our well-being in many ways. They provide space for wildlife, reduce the impact of heatwaves in summer, improve air and water quality, reduce flood risk and generally make us happier.
What’s the problem?
In project SPONGE, we focus on two connected issues that need to be tackled – and we want to tackle them by giving nature more space. One is increasing risk of high intensity rainfall due to climate change, and the other is the decreasing ability of our towns and cities to soak up water.
Climate Change, while being a global phenomenon, will show impacts primarily on a local and community level. In the UK, increased risk of flooding, including surface water flooding, is one of the biggest threats from climate change and is unlikely to be addressed sufficiently by existing hard infrastructure. The response of an area to extreme rainfall depends on what this area looks like. While river flooding can often require a few days rain to occur, built-up urban areas tend to respond more rapidly to high rainfalls. This is mainly due to their impermeability: roads and buildings can not soak up water, and there is little greenspace available in urban areas to infiltrate all the water that falls on a city. Traditionally, pipes and gullies are what takes up rainwater in urban areas and transports it away from the surface, taking over a function that vegetation and soil have in nature. What we have come to notice, however, is that our drainage systems are often overwhelmed by the increasing amounts of water they have to cope with during single events.
Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) give us the opportunity to learn from and work with nature to address the problems raised and at the same time provide green spaces for people and wildlife. They take inspiration from nature to soak up water that would otherwise accumulate and potentially flood, and they can be built on small scales – for example in your backyard – to larger systems.
If you’d like to learn more about the links between climate change, surface water flooding and Sustainable Drainage Systems, have a look at the Resources.
Where does this project come in?
Acknowledging this issue, the European Regional Development Fund has granted money to a group of European partner organisations to address surface water flooding through innovative solutions that work with local communities: SPONGE 2020 is a European funded project that brings together organisations from different countries in the EU to tackle water-related effects of climate change. The project aims to pave the way for adaptation of more flexible, innovative solutions in urban areas across the EU to combat surface water flooding by building resilience rather than relying on old-fashioned hard engineering that is unable to adapt.
Somerset SPONGE is one part of this project, lead by Westcountry Rivers Trust and Somerset County Council. In this project, we want to work with the communities in Taunton and other urban areas of Somerset to deliver a number of “green interventions”, that is, SuDS, that can soak up surface water – hence the project name “SPONGE2020”. These interventions will not only help to prevent surface water flooding but also add to the green networks we need and that make our towns greener, happier and more resilient. And we’d like everyone to get involved.
You can find out more about the fascinating work our partners in other EU countries are doing on the Interreg2Seas page: http://www.interreg2seas.eu/en/SPONGE2020.
Through this cross-border collaboration, we can share our experiences and ultimately develop case studies and guidance that address a wide range of situations and provide examples to a number of stakeholders across the continent and beyond.
Somerset has experienced extensive flooding in the past. Flooding from rivers is common and widely understood, however there is just as much risk from surface water flooding – rainwater collecting on impermeable surfaces and overw
helming traditional drainage systems – flooding locally or directly running off into the river and so increasing risk of flooding downstream.
Somerset already has strategies in place to tackle these issues, but it is hugely important to get communities involved in actually making a change. In Taunton, where we are currently focusing our work, we are using mapping and data analysis to find areas within the town where we can make the biggest difference.
Over three years, Westcountry Rivers Trust and Somerset County Council will work together with local communities in Taunton. We will help people understand how surface water flooding affects them and how it is affecting others, and how they can take action to increase the resilience of their neighbourhood to it. We will also give local residents, groups and businesses the opportunity to take an active part in shaping the development of their neighbourhood by funding the delivery of sustainable solutions to surface water flooding in public spaces by co-designing and delivering interventions.
The project SPONGE2020 is an Interreg2Seas project and is funded by the European Regional Development Fund. Somerset County Council is also receiving funding from the Somerset Rivers Authority.