Thames Valley Flood Scheme - Why do we need the scheme?

Closed 20 Aug 2021

Opened 26 May 2021

Overview

  1. Welcome
  2. Why do we need the Thames Valley Flood Scheme?
  3. What is the Thames Valley Flood Scheme?
  4. Project ambitions and working together
  5. Strategic Environmental Assessment
  6. Timeline
  7. Frequently asked questions
  8. Other consultations and engagement

On this page you can view the history of flooding in the Thames Valley, the consequences that flooding brings, what is expected in the future with climate change and an introduction to the Thames Valley Flood Scheme.

History of flooding

 

 

There has been a long history of flooding in the Thames Valley. The largest recorded flood happened in 1894 when extreme rainfall led to widespread flooding along the River Thames and on many of the rivers that flow into it. This picture shows Botley Road in Oxford. Further downstream along the River Thames, in Kingston, flood water inundated the High Street.

Botley Road in Oxford 1894 flooded with horse drawn carts making their way through the flood waters

Road flooded in Oxford in 1894. Credit: oxfordhistory.org.uk.

Aerial photo of Reading showing flooding in 1947

Aerial photo of Reading showing flooding in 1947.

In 1968 devastating flooding happened on the River Mole and River Wey, which flow into the Thames, leading to major flooding in Guildford and other parts of Surrey.

 

Guildford in 1968 showing flooding of shops, water level is up to door handles and one awning is only just above the flood water

Guildford 1968. Credit: GetSurrey.

In the Spring of 1998, northern parts of the Thames catchment were badly affected by flooding. The River Cherwell flooded the town centre and railway station at Banbury.

Recent flooding

More recently, we’ve seen further significant floods in the area. The Autumn of 2000 was the wettest in the UK since records began in 1766 and led to widespread flooding along the River Thames, with the highest flows since 1947. Flooding across large parts of the Thames Valley happened again in 2003. 

In July 2007 we saw severe surface water and river flooding across many parts of the country. Nationally over 55,000 homes and businesses were flooded. Communities including Oxford, Abingdon, and Wokingham along with many others in the Thames Valley were badly affected.

Flooding in a carpark in 2007, water level is covering car tyres across the carpark.

Wokingham 2007.

Flooding occurred again in the winters of 2012 to 2013 and 2013 to 2014. Between December 2013 and February 2014 a 10 week sequence of Atlantic storms led to weeks of flooding on the Thames. The total volume of rain that fell during this period was exceptional, over 200% of the seasonal average in parts of the Thames Valley and southeast England. The total volume of water that flowed down the River Thames was greater than in 1947 but was over a longer period. Over 1000 properties were flooded across the Thames Valley.

Between all the major floods listed here, there have been many smaller floods, including 2019 to 2020 where new flood alleviation schemes, like the one on the River Wey at Godalming in Surrey were used for the first time, successfully protecting homes.

Earlier this year, the Environment Agency was once again responding to flooding in parts of the Thames Valley, which brought new challenges due to the COVID 19 pandemic.

The frequency and size of floods are expected to continue increasing as a result of climate change.

Changes in the Thames Valley

Over the years the number of properties and businesses within the Thames Valley has grown significantly. Many of these have been built in areas at risk of flooding, especially before the 1990s when planning regulations were improved to take better account of flood risk.

Floods can destroy belongings, threaten lives and damage businesses, and can take years to recover from. For many people floods also result in long term mental health impacts. Changes to the way we live mean the impact of flooding on homes and businesses are greater now than in the past. View our consequences of flooding video to find out more.

Managing flooding in the Thames Valley

The Environment Agency, councils, water companies and others have done much to manage flood risk in the Thames Valley over the last 50 years.

Nowadays, people are better protected by flood defences than ever before. We have built flood alleviation schemes such as Banbury, Marlow and The Maidenhead, Windsor and Eton Flood Alleviation Scheme. You can see the location of these and other flood schemes on the map below. We also use temporary flood barriers to reduce the risk where these are effective. 

Existing and developing schemes in the Thames Valley.

Map of existing flood risk management schemes in the Thames Valley catchment.

The Environment Agency’s forecasting, warning and informing arrangements coupled with digital capabilities are the best they’ve ever been.

Warning triangles indicating different levels of flood warning, from flood alert, to flood warning and severe flood warning

When we respond to flooding, we don’t do it alone, we work in partnership with local authorities, the fire and rescue service, police, army and water companies providing a joined-up response using our combined knowledge and expertise.

Firemen and fire engine at night responding to flooding

As well as all these improvements, we’re working on several major flood alleviation schemes, such as the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme and the River Thames Scheme in the lower Thames. These will provide much needed reductions in flood risk in these areas.

Despite this work to reduce the likelihood and impact of flooding now, the risk of flooding will continue to increase due to climate change, which is bringing more frequent and severe floods. The impact of these is already being seen around the world and in the UK. We are therefore looking at what we and our partners can do to further manage flood risk across the whole of the Thames Valley.

Impact of flooding

 

Changes to the way that we live mean that the impact of flooding on our homes and businesses is now greater than it was in the past. We’ve become more reliant on services such as gas, electric and the internet, all of which can be indirectly impacted by flooding. 

When flooding takes place, it can cause serious impacts to properties and businesses, destroying belongings and threatening lives. Our busy lifestyles mean that we use roads and railways more than ever before and flooding can cause great disruption by causing our transport links to close. It can also interfere with basic services such as schools and hospitals. The materials used nowadays for most modern buildings, fixtures and furniture are often more badly damaged than those previously used. For every property flooded, 15 people are impacted by flooding in other ways.  

Often, the effects of flooding are long term and can be very costly, disruptive, and distressing for the individuals and communities involved, with the knock-on effect on people’s wellbeing.

The mental health impacts of flooding can last for 2 years or more after flooding has happened. Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder can affect up to a third of people who have been flooded, and for those reasons, it’s arguably more important now than ever to get our messages out to the people who need them the most. Taking steps to prepare for flooding and knowing what to do in the instance of a flood can make large reductions to damage to homes and posessions.

Despite the work taking place to reduce the likelihood and impacts of flooding, the risk of flooding will continue to increase due to climate change, which is bringing more frequent and larger floods. The impact of these is already being seen around the world and here in the UK. We are therefore looking at what we and our partners can do to further manage flood risk from climate change across the whole of the Thames Valley. 

Climate change

With climate change we are expecting to see more extreme weather, including heavy rainfall. This will lead to larger and more frequent flooding. This video uses an animation to help visualise this.  

For those that are interested in more detail about the data used you can view the supporting document below and in the related documents section.  

Your browser does not support inline PDF viewing. Please download the PDF.

Next: What is the Thames Valley Flood Scheme?

Previous: Welcome

Audiences

  • Recreational and commercial river users
  • Fishing clubs and representative associations
  • Members of the public with an interest in the river, the species and conservation
  • Businesses
  • Charities
  • Statutory organisations
  • NGOs
  • Members of the public
  • Elected representatives, including MPs
  • Local councils
  • Academics
  • Environment Agency customers
  • Local authorities
  • District and parish councils
  • Environmental bodies
  • Land owners
  • Farming associations
  • RFCCs
  • Elected representatives, including MPs
  • Water companies
  • Members of the public
  • Recreational and commercial river users
  • Community groups
  • Flood action groups
  • Members of the public
  • Community groups
  • Non-governmental organisations with an interest in environmental issues
  • Environment Agency colleagues
  • Lead Local Flood Authorities
  • Local Risk Management Authorities
  • Flood Resilience Forums
  • Members of the public
  • Town and parish councils
  • Regional Flood and Coastal Committees
  • Engagement specialists/operational staff in Natural Resources Wales, local authorities and other risk management authorities

Interests

  • Flood management
  • Water resources
  • Habitats and wildlife