Flood Management with a Time Machine

Chris Uttley has long been an inspiration to Slow The Flow. He gave us a tour of Stroud District Council’s pioneering leaky woody dams project in our early days, which influenced our work at Hardcastle Crags. Learning about his role as Natural Flood Management (NFM) Officer encouraged us to be part of the campaign for an NFM officer role in Calderdale Council, which we are still one of the few Local Authorities to have (though we think they should be standard!) You can see his talk from our Community-led NFM conference at https://slowtheflow.net/community-led-nfm-conference-2/. Chris’ free digital comic, ‘The Sound of a River’, is another inspiring way he is continuing to spread the message about the importance of NFM. 

Blog by Chris Uttley, Stroud Valleys Natural Flood Management Officer:

“Comics to save the planet”, was the unlikely subtitle of an email that landed in my inbox in November 2022. The ambitious subject heading did its job and after reading the message, I filed it away in the “Don’t be daft” category.

The email described a call for artists to submit ideas for funding to create a graphic novel or comic on the theme of nature based solutions, but there were two problems. The call was only open to citizens of EU countries (not me) but more fundamentally, it was a call to artists (definitely not me).

Since moving back to Stroud District Council from the EA, (to spend more time with my leaky dams), I’ve been trying to develop our communications work to reach as wide an audience as possible. Stroud, like Calderdale, has a thriving and busy arts scene, and a reputation for environmental activism. Both of these make it an interesting place to live, but it sometimes appears that the cross over points between the two are mostly about the bigger issues we all face rather than the fundamental nature and landscape issues we live alongside. The level of understanding about just how much we have changed our natural environment and the effects on our daily lives, including flooding, seems low, possibly as a result of that shifting baseline we hear so much about. We could of course just tell people about most of this, about how changes to land use and management have exacerbated flood risk and Natural Flood Management is a good technical response to those changes.

But if all we needed to convince people about how much the countryside has changed and the effects on water and flooding were good evidence and facts, we would be living in a very different world. We know people respond in different ways to information, and how it is received and understood is often dependent upon who is telling them and the way the information is communicated.

So like other projects around the country, I have started to explore how we might tell people about our work in other ways. I’ve commissioned local Stroud poet, Adam Horovitz, to write some poetry about our work. Adam lives in the Slad Valley, very close to several of our work sites and I have been influenced in some of my thinking by the farmer activist poet, Wendell Berry. The power of poetry to convey the feelings, not the facts, is well known. The poems will be published soon, but you can read some of Adam’s work in the anthology “The soil never sleeps”. This was commissioned by the Pasture Fed Livestock Association and some of the poems cover the issues around run-off and soil health. 

I’m also working with the same film maker again who produced our original project film, Antony Lyons, to produce a series of shorts films, working with the University of Gloucestershire. The new films will try to put our work into the context of the climate and nature emergency, bring some younger voices forward and focus on the story of one Stroud resident’s floodplain adapted life . Antony is working with musicians to create some original soundtracks to the films too. Antony has been working with a Rewilding Europe project in Portugal. 

The poems and the films were always in the plan, but a comic wasn’t on my radar until the email arrived, and even then, due to reasons outlined above, it seemed a long shot. But in much the same way as most elements of our work, serendipity stepped in. Local artist Joe Magee agreed to spend an hour with me working up a pitch to apply for the cash and after succeeding in this, (and convincing my manager in SDC to match fund Joe if he were successful!) we started work on the comic.

Joe did all the hard work on the images and we worked together on the story. The images are reworkings of photographs taken around the Stroud Valleys by Joe and hopefully, the comic not only conveys the misery and loss of being flooded, but also the scale of the changes we have wrought on our landscape that make flooding more likely and more severe. We didn’t want this to be a story of doom though. It was important to us that people understand that we can reverse the changes and that putting the water and nature back into our landscape is not only possible, but essential if we are going to adapt to the increased flood risk we will see because of global heating. You can read the comic here:

https://www.stroud.gov.uk/environment/flooding-and-drainage/stroud-valleys-natural-flood-management-project/sound-of-a-river?utm_medium=email&utm_name=&utm_source=govdelivery

I hope you enjoy the comic and the poems and films when they are available on our website. 

For anyone going to be in Stroud on March 9th or if you have friends who live there, you will be able to see the artwork from the comic, hear the poems from Adam and watch a 30 minute immersive film with the live music score at the Museum in the Park. We have created an event as part of Stroud Film Festival called “Flood Management with a Time Machine”. 

https://www.stroudfilmfestival.org/events-2024/2024/3/9/screenings

FLOOD MANAGEMENT WITH A TIME MACHINE

Saturday, March 9, 2024

2:00 PM – 3:30 PM

Museum in the Park

Stratford Park, Stroud GL5 4AF

A film screening with live music, poetry reading and art exhibition exploring the connections between land, nature, people and flooding – all in the museum’s charming garden Pavilion.

Antony Lyons will show the film-poem ‘Fluid Forests – an ecological symphony’. This is an atmospheric, immersive work exploring some timeless watery habitats in the Stroud Valleys. For this premiere of the work, it will be accompanied by an improvised live music score performed by the Fluid Forests Sounds ensemble.

Adam Horovitz will read newly commissioned poems relating to nature-based approaches to reducing flood risk in the Stroud Valleys. 

Joe Magee and Chris Uttley (Stroud District Council) present an exhibition of original artwork from the graphic story ‘Sound of a River’, which tells the story of a young Stroud resident’s journey of discovery after the flooding of her home. 

The collection is inspired and part funded by the Stroud Valleys Natural Flood Management project, which works collaboratively to reduce flood risk, improve water quality and restore nature in the Stroud Valleys