North York Moors

North York Moors logo
Browse section

Slowing the Flow

Slowing the flowSlowing the flow

A bit of background

This project aimed to implement natural flood risk management techniques in the Pickering and Sinnington catchments through a range of interventions to help reduce flood risk as well as provide wider environmental benefits.

The Project was operational from 2009 to 2015 and was one of three pilots funded by Defra in response to Sir Michael Pitt’s Review of the 2007 floods which called for Defra, the Environment Agency and Natural England to work with partners to deliver flood risk management involving greater working with natural processes.

Flooding appears to be an increasingly common event and one that could get even worse with climate change. Pickering had been flooded four times in the last 30 years (1999, 2000, 2002 and 2007); with the last flood the most serious to date, causing damage to homes and businesses valued at approximately £7m.

Flood defence

A variety of techniques are being used to make changes to the way the landscape is managed, these include;

  • constructing timber dams in small streams
  • planting trees, especially along streamsides and in the floodplain
  • blocking moorland gullies with heather bales
  • increasing the ‘roughness’ of vegetation by encouraging natural regeneration of trees and restoring heather on bare areas
  • slowing down runoff from farmland

These techniques all work together to help hold flood water upstream and allow water to release slowly back into the river, lowering the chance of flooding in the downstream areas.

Work done on Levisham Estate

The North York Moors National Park Authority’s own land on Levisham Estate is within the Pickering Beck catchment and the Authority has carried out a number of flood control measures on its land which are summarised below and shown on the map.

Tree planting by volunteers, Horcum

Tree planting - to protect sensitive soils from disturbance and reduce rapid runoff due to high infiltration rates

  • 8,500 trees were planted in 2011 and 2013, mainly local oaks
  • Nearly half of these have been planted by the Authority’s volunteers
  • Forestry Commission grant was received for the majority of the planting, via the English Woodland Grant Scheme

National Park Apprentices building timber dams in Hole of HorcumWooden dams created - to increase flood storage by raising water levels and reconnecting streams with their floodplain. 18 timber dams were created by the Authority’s Modern Apprentices.

Moorland gully blocking with heather balesMoorland gully blocking - to improve water retention and delay the generation of flood flows. The Authority spent £7,000 on blocking natural moorland gullies with heather bales on various parts of the Estate’s moorland.

Revegetation work – to provide soil cover and stability and reduce surface runoff. Heather brash was spread in the Hole of Horcum to aid re-vegetation after bracken control.

Footpath work – to reduce rapid surface runoff and erosion. An eroding path in the Hole of Horcum was repaired with improved drainage.

Heather burning buffers no burn’ zones retain longer vegetation and reduce the speed of surface runoffCurrent Environmental Stewardship Schemes include 10m no-burn buffers against watercourses.

More information is available on our Levisham Estate page.

What has been delivered?

In 2009, a strong local partnership was formed to deliver interventions that would protect Pickering from a 1 in 25 year flood and also protect the village of Sinnington. By March 2015 the following work had been delivered in the Pickering Beck and River Seven catchments:

  • 167 small wooden dams in watercourses
  • 2 large novel ‘timber bunds’ in the Seven catchment
  • 187 heather bale dams in moorland drains and no-burn buffers established
  • 29ha of new riparian woodland planted
  • 15ha of farm woodland in the Seven catchment
  • 5.9ha of riparian woodland buffers along 2,779m of streamside in Forestry England’s forests
  • 10 farms undertook water control works under Catchment Sensitive Farming including dams
  • A large flood storage bund was constructed north of Pickering

Final reports are available for Phase 1 (2009-2011) and Phase 2 (2011-2015).

Flood water storage - Modelling has predicted that the measures completed should reduce the chance of flooding in Pickering from 25% to 4% or less in any given year. The flood storage bund is designed to store 120,000mof flood water. The other measures in the landscape will act to further reduce flood risk.

Public benefits - As well as the alleviation of flood risk, the project has also delivered a significant amount of other public goods including carbon capture, wildlife habitat provision, erosion control, community engagement and knowledge transfer. Forest Research has tried to quantify the ecosystem services provided and concluded that from a societal perspective, the benefits significantly outweighed the cost.

Is it working?

Monitoring of water flows

Slowing the Flow in Pickering is an ongoing project. Success of the flood control measures is initially being assessed by Forest Research using mathematical models but over time river flows will be monitored to assess whether the control measures have been effective. So far things are looking positive!

The same principles were used by the jointly funded National Park Authority and Environment Agency Modern Apprenticeship Scheme which worked on the River Leven to help reduce flood risk in Great Ayton. This work won an Environment Agency award.


Slowing the Flow at Pickering was a partnership project. It is led by Forest Research, closely supported by the Forestry Commission, the Environment Agency, the North York Moors National Park Authority, Durham University, Natural England and the wider community. The lead funder is Defra. Most of the work carried out in the catchment was done on land owned and managed by Forestry England and the National Park Authority.

Local community

There is a great deal of public interest in the project and local people and organisations are actively encouraged to participate and help achieve a successful outcome. There have been several community events held in Pickering over the lifetime of the Project.

Sharing knowledge

Natural England site visit to share knowledgeThe project has gained a very strong national profile and is well cited as a case study demonstrating the values of working with natural processes. Of special note has been its role in guiding and integrating government policy on flood risk and land use management. It has hosted over 14 site visits for a range of key individuals and groups to share knowledge and experience. It has also been the subject of many invited presentations at conferences, workshops and training events held around the UK.


BeaverBeavers from Scotland have been released into a secure area at Cropton Forest as a follow on to the project. Man-made dams at Cropton Forest have already been helping to reduce flooding, however they are expensive and time-consuming to look after. So the aim of this beaver release trial is to see how well they maintain the existing dams and create their own.

BeaverAs part of the project, the North York Moors National Park Authority is funding the project monitoring for a 5 year period. The monitoring, being undertaken by Exeter University, will include areas such as hydrological processes, drone footage and water quality.

For more information please see Forestry England’s blog.


Rachel Pickering, Natural Environment Team Leader
01439 772700

Further information

Forest Research - Slowing the Flow