Stroud Rural Sustainable Drainage Project

Case Study Information
Working with communities, landowners and partners to implement natural flood management on a catchment wide scale. In the past, the valleys near Stroud in Gloucestershire, through which the River Frome and its tributaries run, have been prone to flooding. In 2007 there was a major flood event which damaged many properties in the Slad Valley. Following a report published by the Environment Agency in 2012 on the potential for Natural Flood Management in the Frome catchment, a formal partnership was set up between Gloucestershire County Council, the Environment Agency, the Regional Flood and Coastal Committee and Stroud District Council to implement a three year project. A Project Officer was recruited and work began in 2014.
Stroud District, Gloucestershire (within approximately 200km2 of the upper catchment)
Habitat types (UK NEA habitats): 
Semi-natural grasslands
Enclosed farmland
Freshwater, wetlands and floodplains
Landscape context: 

The Stroud River Frome arises on the Cotswold Escarpment in Gloucestershire. The catchment is approximately 250km2 in size and flows to the Severn estuary. Its geology is primarily limestone and the river combines a mixture of spring and surface drained sources. The upper reaches of the catchment are within the Cotswold Area of Natural Beauty (AONB), and significant areas of the upper catchment are within the Cotswold Commons and Beechwoods National Nature Reserves (NNR)  and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). 

Partners, organisations and stakeholders involved: 
  • Severn and Wye Regional Flood and Coastal Committee
  • Environment Agency
  • Gloucestershire County Council
  • National Trust
  • Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust
  • University of Gloucestershire (Countryside and Community Research Institute)
  • Butterfly Conservation
  • Woodland Trust
  • Severn Rivers Trust
Aims of the project/initiative: 

Involving the implementation of a wide range of measures designed to slow peak flows, attenuate high flows to reduce flood risk whilst at the same time taking steps to improve water quality and restore biodiversity.

The Project's vision is: to create a river catchment where water management is fully integrated into land management practices. Where public bodies, private companies and local communities work together to manage water within the landscape, creating valuable habitat for wildlife and people, and limiting flood risk downstream.

Progress so far: 

Since 2014 the Project has worked with 16 landowners (farmers, woodland owners and land owned by local partners such as Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and the National Trust) and constructed or implemented over 300 different types of intervention to slow peak flows and reduce floods in the valleys. Interventions include:

  • 130+ large woody debris leaky dams installed in four tributaries to hold back and divert flood water. 30 minor coarse woody debris structures.
  • 9 culverts and soakaways created
  • 12 off-line field bunds (no watercourse)
  • 6 large ‘scarp erosion/drainage channels’ filled with timber

Two films have been produced in partnership with the University of Gloucestershire to publicise the work. They are a significant communication tool for describing what Natural Flood Management is about and the multiple ecosystem services that can be delivered by the project.

In 2017 the Project was a runner up in the UK River Prize competition, run by the River Restoration Centre to recognise innovation and best practice in river restoration and catchment management.


Challenges and lessons learned: 

Natural Flood Management relies on putting measures in place across a large area of catchment, and therefore the success of the Project has been very dependent on building good relationships with local landowners, including farmers and NGOs. These good relationships have been achieved through:

  • Involving the farmer or woodland owner in designing and locating any measures to ensure they are compatible with their ongoing business priorities.
  • sometimes employing the landowner or their contractor directly to undertake construction which results in increased ownership, capacity and skills.
  • working with a large number of local agricultural contractors to improve local capacity for this type of work.
  • Taking a pragmatic, community-led approach has meant reaching a large number of landowners quickly.
How does the Project reflect the ecosystem approach?
Principle #12: involve more of society in decisions: 

The Stroud RSuDS projects uses expertise from a wide range of technical and non-technical sources from both the wider professional and the local community. Taking advice from farmers, landowners and community groups about water management at the very local level and applying principles from technical experts to those local situations.

Principle #2 local is best: 

Stroud Community Flood Action Groups were directly involved in the establishment of the project. For example, a representative from the Slad Flood Action Group sat on the interview panel with the District council and the EA to help appoint the project officer. Stroud District Council is working with landowners on a voluntary basis and landowners are fully involved in decisions about implementing measures and in many cases are contracted to undertake works.

Principle #3 think of others: 

The implications of this project beyond the catchment boundary have been fully considered:

  • production of films communicate lessons learned and approach beyond the local area
  • visits from community groups coming from other parts of the country help inform similar projects 
  •  those downstream benefit from work undertaken upstream making the impacts easy to communicate, this has been communicated and is understood by the local community.
Principle #4 understand economic context: 

Reducing flood risk using natural flood management techniques is an ideal way of communicating the economic value of nature. Work is being undertaken to evaluate the financial benefits of reduced flood risk using natural flood management techniques.

Scale and dynamics
Principle #7 work at the right scale: 

A catchment is a naturally defined boundary and so the geographic scale of our work is relatively easy to communicate and define and makes sense on the ground. 

Principle #8 look well ahead: 

Planning for the long term involves working with land owners to coincide works with natural coppice cycles and other seasonal elements of land management.

Stroud District Council has included the project within the scope of the Community Infrastructure Levy priorities to ensure long term funding is in place.

Principle #9 be adaptable to change: 
  • The project is designed to respond to and help the community adapt to climate induced environment change. A main challenge being to reduce flood risk at a pace greater than the increase in risk caused by climate change.
  • Working specifically within rapid response catchments, the project attempts to reduce soil erosion through specific measures.
  • Natural materials, for example, wood and soil, and non-permanent structures that will change and evolve over time in response to environmental changes are used.
Functions, goods and services
Principle #5 maintain the health of nature: 

Delivering a regulating ecosystem service is central to the concept of natural flood management. Natural processes are augmented and refined and systems that occur by chance in nature are mimicked e.g. a log jam within a stream, to reduce flood risk.

A key theme of the project is ensuring the ecosystem can continue to deliver natural flood management and other services. This requires working closely with those seeking to conserve and optimise aspects of the natural environment that can deliver such services. For instance working with woodland managers; to develop coppicing and cropping so that timber can be used for structures, and by maintaining permanent species rich grasslands to increase infiltration and to allow safe attenuation of water.

Principle #10 balance the demand for use and conservation of the environment: 

The project works within a farmed and managed landscape to provide benefits. The measures are designed to have as little impact as possible on existing uses and it is encouraged that landowners think about different ways of managing land to deliver a reduction in flood risk and an improved habitat for biodiversity. There is a complete reliance on working with land managers so ways of working that compromise between exploiting natural resources and delivering ecosystem services, such as reduced flood risk, have been developed. 

Further information
Contact name 

Chris Uttley

Role in project: 
Stroud Rural Sustainable Drainage Officer
Location map: