When we think about the challenges climate change poses to the UK, flooding is understandably at the top of a lot of people’s minds.
It’s certainly been a concern for the people of Wolverley, Worcestershire. The village sits between the River Stour and the Worcestershire canal and it’s had four once-in-a-lifetime floods in the past decade.
The community have come together to do something about it, and my teammates and I at 10:10 Climate Action wanted to help. Together, we’ve been working with a great, tried-and-tested technology which can help tackle a load of problems all at once: tree planting.
Flooding has been a risk for Brits since we first set up camp on this island. Every so often, a community would experience a storm, a river bursting its banks or huge waves crashing onto the shore. The results were - and still are - devastating. It can take years to recover.
But we’re seeing these ‘once in a generation’ type floods happening much more regularly. The Met Office confirmed that four out of the five wettest years on record in Britain have taken place since the year 2000.
There are two ways climate change can make flooding more likely. Firstly, sea levels are rising due to melting ice caps. Rising sea levels make storm surges more frequent and more severe, which can create disastrous flooding in coastal areas.
On top of this, our atmosphere is warmer. And a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture. With more water in the atmosphere, when it does pour there’s a lot more rain up there to fall down! This increases the severity of flooding as riverbanks are overwhelmed, making floods much more destructive.
By cutting greenhouses gases to limit the impacts of climate change, and by building communities that are resilient to the levels of climate change we're already locked into, this disruption to people's lives and to families can be prevented.
Firstly, they absorb carbon, making tree-planting a great way to tackle climate change. The government’s own climate change advisors say trees are a vital part of us hitting our climate targets - in fact they think we need a lot more.
So trees will help reducing climate impacts like flooding in the long-term. But did you know that trees have a double purpose in tackling flooding: they can also be used as a soft flood defence?
Trees reduce flood risk from the top to bottom. Lots of raindrops that land on leaves evaporate straight into the air- so less water reaches the ground. And, leaves intercept rainfall, slowing the rate that water flows into rivers and reducing the risk it’ll burst its banks.
The roots of a tree are also important. They create little passages in the soil as they grow, so when it rains water flows into those instead of flowing straight into the river.
The roots also act as a net to hold the soil in place and stop it washing into a river. That can be a problem because the more soil on a river bed, the less space for water, which means the river is more likely to flood when it rains a lot.
Trees are a great way to combat flooding. Plus - they’re gorgeous! That’s why planting trees in Wolverley seemed like the obvious plan of action for us.
Tree planting diary
Here's what happened on the day.
It’s 6am on a Friday in January. I pack my wellies and rush out the door into the pouring rain. I immediately regret not wearing said wellies. I’m heading to 10:10 HQ in Camden Town, where I’ll meet two colleagues and we’ll set off together, heading north. Our destination is Wolverley, a village in Worcestershire.
On our journey up, we go through areas covered by a moderate layer of snow. I hope, for the sake of the trees, that this isn’t the case in Wolverley.
Upon arriving, we prepare for the tree planting session that will take place the following day. We examine the sites, check equipment and mark the ground where trees will be planted. As we finish, we go for a walk around the village. We walk down a winding road surrounded by sandstone that leads us to the home of a local family.
Over a cup of tea, the grandmother tells us she recently stumbled upon photos she took of a flood that hit their home a few years ago. She quietly says she finds the photos hard to look at, they aren’t good memories. I can see why, the scene is unnerving. Home should be a place you feel safe, not on edge.
It’s Saturday, the rest of the 10:10 team are here and we’re heading down to the village hall to meet the volunteers - exciting! We arrive early, and early bird volunteers start to trickle in shortly after. By the time we leave to go to the first field we’ll be planting on today, we have about 50 volunteers in tow.
It was fantastic to see people coming together from across the country - from uni students to scouts to retired folk to families. Everyone grabbed a spade and mucked in.
With masses of enthusiasm they braved the chilly weather (and quite a few spots of rain!). Cups of tea from the outdoor wood-burning kettle kept spirits high, not to mention a lovely low carbon plant based lunch.
10:10’s director of innovation, Leo, happens to also be an ex-tree surgeon. He gathers everyone round and gives a demonstration of how we’ll be planting trees today. He is in his element. When he finishes, everyone disperses across the fields in a hurry to get those trees in the ground.
I chat to Jo, who heard about the project from a 10:10 email. She’s travelled down from Bristol wanting to take some positive, practical action against climate change. I also chat to a middle aged man who’s a Wolverley local.
He’s your traditional countryside Brit, and I am surprised when he tells me that he, along with his wife and daughters, went vegan last year, inspired by their son’s decision to make the diet change to reduce his personal carbon footprint.
I finish the day chatting to volunteers - from near and far - underneath a marquee. The rain pours outside, but it doesn’t dampen spirits. One thing that really stands out to me is how powerful doing something physical is to them.
In our world of increasingly online actions, this is a refreshing change to those who feel frustrated and can use their hands for something other than typing at a keyboard. For those who’ve come with climate change in mind, it is therapeutic to see some change happening right in front of them.
For those wanting to protect their homes from flooding, this gives them a sense of control - the ability to influence a force that they’ve traditionally felt powerless against.
We head back to our rented barnhouse and whip up a hearty sweet potato curry for dinner, we’re exhausted but excited to do it all again tomorrow.
By the end of the weekend, with the help of 80 incredible volunteers, we had planted 200 trees and 2000 whips (that’s little trees) that’ll grow into about 500m of hedgerow. They will help protect the village from flooding and soak up CO2 for decades to come!
Emma Kemp is campaigns officer at 10:10 Climate Action, a charity that runs positive, practical projects at the community level, and turns these local actions into a force for bigger changes.
Image: © Chris Rhys Field.