Dartmoor Headwaters Natural Flood Management Project

Dartmoor Headwaters Natural Flood Management Project

Dartmoor Headwaters is a partnership between Dartmoor National Park Authority and the Environment Agency. The pilot phase of this project began in 2018 and during that time the project worked with its partners Devon County Council, Natural England, Highways England, West Country Rivers Trust and Woodland Trust, as well as landowners and commoners across Dartmoor. The pilot concluded on 31st March 2021.

Natural Flood Management aims to use natural river processes, land management techniques and less traditional approaches to slowing down and storing water, helping to reduce the risk of flooding downstream. Such measures are usually less intrusive in the environment than more engineered solutions and can bring added benefits such as enhanced biodiversity, increased carbon capture and storage and improved water quality. They are normally used higher up in the river catchment to tackle flooding nearer to the source and can be used in addition to engineered defences further downstream, to further reduce flood risk.

Further funding has been secured to continue Natural Flood Management work into the next phase of the partnership, between 2021 and 2027. We will be taking the learning from the pilot and using these techniques Dartmoor wide, as well as building upon the work done so far in the trial catchments- Dean Burn, Mardle, Collybrook, Blackbrook and the Hanger Down area of the Erme catchment.


Dartmoor is often subject to rapid flash flooding events, which are caused by a combination of the region's topography and being hit by rain fronts coming in from the Atlantic Ocean.

Downstream of Dartmoor’s moorland landscape are many towns and villages with properties at risk of flooding during flash flood events. A combination of the geology, changing weather patterns and long established land management practices means that soils are not absorbing and storing water efficiently, leading to excessive run-off and erosion.

The Objectives

The objectives of the Project are to work in collaboration with landowners and commoners to address these issues, using local labour to carry out the work wherever possible. This may include:

  • Addressing poor soil condition
  • Reconnecting the river with its floodplain
  • Tree planting
  • Leaky dams
  • New hedge banks to break flows
  • Wetland creation
  • River restoration and buffering
  • Water storage areas
  • Peatland restoration

View the photo gallery for a snapshot of some of the work carried out by the project to date.

The following short video clip highlights how one leaky willow faggot dam can help to slow down water heading downstream towards the river. Multiply the effect of numerous dams and other interventions within a catchment and a significant difference can be made to the timing and volume of flows reaching the main river.

Further information

Watch this 6 minute film for more information on Natural Flood Management and other similar projects.

Watch 'High Water Common Ground'

A series of useful summary sheets are available to download from the Environment Agency website (opens in new window).

Latest updates

See our June 2021 Newsletter (PDF) for the latest project updates

View previous June 2020 newsletter (PDF)

Contact Kerry Smith, Dartmoor Headwaters Natural Flood Management Project Officer on 01626 831027  ksmith @dartmoor.gov.uk or email DartmoorNFM@environment-agency.gov.uk.

The project is funded by the Environment Agency through 'Flood Defence Grant in Aid', with contributions or contributions in kind from: Dartmoor National Park Authority, Environment Agency, Highways England, Plymouth University, Devon County Council, Devon Wildlife Trust, Moor Trees, West Country Rivers Trust, Forestry Commission, Natural England.

In partnership with

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