In a lecture I attended with Sir James Bevan, CEO of the Environment Agency, he called the UK’s
water situation ‘a looming existential threat’ while referring to a graph showing an increasing
demand for fresh water is set to outweigh the supply in the next 20-25 years due to population and industrial growth.
When the rain does come it is coming in greater quantities, running straight over poorly managed
soils or overwhelming storm drains and waste water treatment plants, causing the water to rush into waterways while carrying top soils, chemicals and excess nutrients. Pollutants wash out to sea where the UK is consistently ranked as one of the worst European countries for coastal water quality. The UK has lost 95% of our historic native oysters since the mid 1800s and an 83% decline in global freshwater species populations since 1970.
In contrast to this summer’s drought and only a few months before, storms in February 2022 were
causing record breaking flooding, particularly along the Rivers Ouse, Severn, Mersey and Derwent.
This introduces one of the main issues we need to solve, how to hold water in the land to balance
the high flow rates in winter and low flow rates in summer, while improving water quality and
Nature Based Solutions
Nature based solutions involve interventions that mimic the river’s natural behaviours and can be
delivered as long term, biodiversity rich solutions with little need for expensive human technologies, instead the associated costs are in the design and use of local ecological knowledge. I see these solutions in opposition to hard engineering approaches such as dredging or concrete embankments, which involve expensive corporate contracts that deliver solutions with a short term, human orientated fix, while often destructive for wildlife habitats and offer little to community cohesion.
Nature based solutions offer a much wider range of ecosystem services, a term used to encompass the tangible and intangible benefits that humans obtain from ecosystems. Example ecosystem services include products such as food and water, regulation of floods, soil erosion and disease outbreaks, and non-material benefits such as recreational and spiritual benefits in natural areas.
The concept of low-tech innovations is that they are unsophisticated and accessible in price,
materials and application. When low-tech is matched with traditional ecological knowledge (TEK),
the concept of contemporary technology is expanded and has created an emergent movement
known as Lo-TEK. Lo-TEK rewrites the narrative around indigenous, primitive technologies to adapt to environmental challenges. Lo-TEK solutions embrace local, inexpensive, hand-made, easily constructed, soft, symbiotic systems that intelligently harness the understanding of ecosystems. LoTEK innovates in a way to amplify mutually beneficial interactions between multiple species and seeks to advance Darwin’s theory of ‘survival of the fittest’ to ‘survival of the most symbiotic’. Lo-TEK innovation in the ecological crisis creates technologies which are easily scalable and inherently nature positive by design.