River restoration helping to reduce flood risk in the New Forest

A project to return rivers to their natural state is playing its part in reducing flood risk in the New Forest.

Local experts are reinstating drainage channels to their natural meanders, helping to enhance the area’s precious wetland habitats and naturally hold water upstream.

River restoration is part of the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme and has seen nine miles of drainage channels, first artificially straightened by the Victorians, restored to more natural stream systems. This work also slows water flow, helping to prevent flash floods racing downstream.

The 10 year Higher Level Stewardship scheme is an agreement with Natural England, held by the Verderers and managed by them in partnership with the Forestry Commission and the New Forest National Park Authority.

Higher Level Stewardship is a targeted scheme focused on achieving environmental benefits in priority areas. Over time, it will transition to the new Countryside Stewardship scheme which will put £900 million towards restoring habitats, protecting landscapes, creating new woodland, reducing flooding risks, and providing year-round food and shelter for pollinators, birds and other wildlife.

Research by national experts from The River Restoration Centre has shown that restored waterways have shown ‘sustained positive change over the period since their restoration both in terms of improving the quality of habitats and restoring the physical functioning of the river systems’1.

Natural approaches to flood protection are increasingly seen as part of the response to the growing frequency and severity of flooding in the UK. These tactics are supported by experts from a wide range of organisations, including the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and Freshwater Habitats Trust. They have jointly described the natural approach as ‘sustainable both in terms of monetary cost and environmental impact’2.

Bruce Rothnie, Forestry Commission Deputy Surveyor, said: ‘This winter’s flooding in the UK highlights the importance of wetland restoration, to hold water longer upstream, release it more slowly and reduce the impact of flooding downstream.

‘The HLS scheme funds projects in the New Forest to restore natural habitats, which in turn helps reduce flood risk. The work we’ve been doing to make our rivers and streams more resilient has shown a number of successes.

‘The Forestry Commission’s team of experts is working to re-instate natural bends in streams to increase their length and slow the flow of water. By infilling these deep man-made drains we also reduce the erosion of boggy mires, which is key habitat for species such as curlew and small red damselfly.

‘So far, nine miles of drainage channels have been restored to natural streams, protecting the New Forest’s internationally-important wetlands and helping them to function better for future generations.’

In addition to river restoration the HLS scheme also supports commoning, archaeology and provides education about the New Forest. This includes bringing more than 11,000 children on school trips to the National Park and recording thousands of forgotten archaeological sites.

To find out more about the HLS scheme and its work to restore waterways in the New Forest visit



1. ‘New Forest Wetland Restoration Review’ – The River Restoration Centre

The River Restoration Centre is the national expert advice centre for best practice river restoration, habitat enhancement and catchment management.

Quote contained within Summary, page 110:

‘All of the sites assessed have shown sustained positive change over the period since their restoration both in terms of improving the quality of habitats and restoring the physical functioning of the mire/ river systems.’

2. ’Floods and dredging – a reality check’ – Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM)

This report has been produced by CIWEM, the leading Chartered Professional Body covering all aspects of water and environmental activity in the UK. The organisation has a history of working in environmental management dating back to 1895.

Quote contained within Foreword on page three:

‘Working with nature, rather than against it, is sustainable both in terms of monetary cost and environmental impact. Restoring wetlands, planting wet woodlands, encouraging rivers to meander over the floodplain and creating ‘upstream’ holding areas and buffer strips are just some of the ‘slow water’ techniques which allow time for underground reserves to fill and prevent flash flood peaks racing downstream. These approaches also deliver improved habitat for wildlife, better quality water and a range of other benefits that impact positively on people and businesses.’

Notes to Editors

Photo: Mark Simpson

The Environmental Stewardship Schemes, of which HLS is one strand, are administered by Natural England, on behalf of Defra, and funds farmers and land managers throughout England to deliver effective environmental management on their land.

The objectives of Environmental Stewardship are to:

  • Promote public access and understanding of the countryside
  • Maintain and enhance landscape quality and character
  • Protect the historic environment and natural resources
  • Conserve biodiversity.

The role of the Verderers of the New Forest is to protect and administer the New Forest’s unique agricultural commoning practices; to conserve its traditional landscape, wildlife and aesthetic character, including its flora and fauna, peacefulness, natural beauty and cultural heritage;  and to safeguard a viable future for commoning.

The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible for forestry in Great Britain. It supports woodland owners with grants; tree felling licences, regulation and advice; promotes the benefits of forests and forestry; and advises Government on forestry policy. It manages more than a million hectares (2.5 million acres) of national forest land for public benefits such as sustainable timber production, public recreation, nature conservation, and rural and community development. For more information, visit

Natural England is the government’s advisor on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.

The New Forest National Park Authority works with partners to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Park and to promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities. It also has a duty to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities within the Park.

Media Contact

Esta Mion, Communications Manager, Forestry Commission South District Offices, email or call 07900 137 957.