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Trees on the River Uck – planting trees can help protect our waterways

Sussex landowners, smallholders and farmers wanted for tree-planting in pioneering flood-fighting project.

Overflowing drain

Overflowing drain

An exciting new project in Sussex is looking for local landowners – whether that’s individuals or businesses – to come forward and plant trees to cut flooding and improve water quality. Anyone who owns land in Sussex get free expert tree-planting advice and support from the Woodland Trust. If suitable land is within the Uck catchment area, the cost of planting trees can be met through the Trees on the River Uck project, bringing landowners all the benefits trees offer, plus helping to make this vital pioneering project more effective.

(TrUck) is a partnership between the Woodland Trust, Sussex Wildlife Trust and The Environment Agency, which aims to demonstrate natural methods of reducing flood risk and managing water. More woodland is needed in flood-prone areas in Sussex, and through TrUck, free expert advice and support on tree planting is available, and the cost of planting can be covered through the project if land is suitable and falls within the eligible area. Free advice, help and assistance with funding is still available outside of the catchment area.

Why rivers matter

Vital ecosystem services[1] (natural benefits) that we get from rivers include direct benefits like fuel and food, but also less visible services such as oxygen, wildlife habitat, nutrients, educational and recreational opportunities, aesthetic values, as being part of our culture and history. River quality is damaged by flooding, as well as soil run-off and silting, and chemical pollution. If rivers are not properly managed, we could lose the benefits they give us. Claire Kerr, regional manager for the Woodland Trust, said: “Protecting natural features which are literally the lifeblood of our environment is really important, and even better if we can use natural methods like planting trees to do it. That’s why we hope as many landowners in the catchment area as possible will come forward and work with us to make this project a success.”

TrUck catchment area

TrUck catchment area

How trees can benefit rivers and landowners at the same time

Trees can help fight flood risk – water can infiltrate hard ground by 60 times more within three years of trees being planted. They also help absorb excess water on wet ground, slowing the amount of water running off into rivers and streams. Woodlands located on floodplains have also been found to slow flood waters – in key places this can help to delay or stagger the peak flow from tributaries. This kind of wet woodland is a nationally declining habitat, yet is vital as it is equipped to deal with fluctuations in water levels. Wet woodlands often don’t need as much maintenance as other woodland types – they are comprised of native species such as alder, willow and black poplar which can withstand wet conditions. They also play host to a number of rare and unique species of invertebrates and mosses. Designated as a Biodiversity Habitat, targets have been set to increase this habitat nationally. Trees can also reduce pollution in water by trapping chemicals: they are able to absorb up to 99% of phosphates and nitrates when planted within five metres of a water course (half of these chemicals currently found in rivers are thought to come from farms water run-off). Trees also stabilise river banks with their root structures, cutting bank erosion and lessening the build up of silt in rivers.

Trees and woods offer many other environmental benefits including carbon storage, soil production, wildlife habitat, and oxygen production, but they also offer direct economic benefits for landowners such as a sustainable fuel and timber source, shelter and shade for livestock, shelterbelts to protect crops, game cover, and can be planted to improve amenity or recreational land.

Sandra Manning-Jones, the TrUck project officer, said: “In times of heavy rainfall the clay soils and efficient drainage system in the Uck catchment leads to a rapid rise and fall in water levels. We hope to use natural enhancements, such as tree planting, to help slow water down and reduce the overall flood peak. This offers a more sustainable approach which will also help improve water quality and increase areas for wildlife.”

In Sussex

Despite the relatively large amount of woodland in Sussex – 43,000 hectares, or 11% of the county – less than 300 hectares are found in the most flood-prone zones, so more trees need to be planted in these areas. If you’re interested in planting trees, please contact or phone 08452 935 689 to get free advice and a site assessment visit.


[1] Ecosystem services

In 2011 the National Ecosystem Assessment was produced by the Living with Environmental Change Partnership. This extensive report provided an assessment of the hidden services that are provided to our society and economy by our natural environment, called Ecosystem Services.


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