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Site Visit 3: Ironbridge

by Claire Walsh last modified 2007-08-08 13:53

The sun finally shone on an SKCC Study Day as researchers and stakeholders met at the Green Wood Centre in Coalbrookdale, part of the Ironbridge World Heritage Site on 6th March. The problems are exacerbated by increased amounts of rainfall during the autumn and winter. Visitors came from University College London, the Universities of Birmingham, Chester, Coventry, and Nottingham Trent, together with representatives from CADW, Historic Scotland, Historic Royal Palaces, Telford and Wrekin Council and the National Flood Forum, as well as independent conservation scientists and researchers. The focus of the day was the threat to the Site from flooding and land instability.

The Green Wood Centre provided an appropriate location for visitors to the third SKCC Study Day. Opened in 1998, the Centre’s innovative construction methods have been designed to minimise the negative impact on the environment. It is constructed from local timber and incorporates high levels of efficiency, including use of solar radiation and heat exchangers.


Visitors were introduced to the World Heritage Site by Jonathan Lloyd, coordinator of the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site. Designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1986, Ironbridge has significance for its role in the development in the Industrial Revolution, with the Iron Bridge, built in 1779, at its heart. Any protection against the physical threats of flooding land slippage has to maintain the special character of the Site, which is home to 4000 people and provides £15 million per year to the local economy.

Chris Butler of Telford and Wrekin Council presented visitors with the difficulties of controlling flooding in the Gorge. The fast flowing river makes consolidation of the banks very difficult. Cost benefit analysis some years ago found that the cost of building hard flood defences was not justified.  Temporary defences were the key, with an innovative mobile defence developed in Sweden used in November 2006. The 500m Pallet Barrier put up after flood warnings were given along the valley effectively prevented homes and businesses from flood water damage; allowing businesses to reopen a few days afterwards.


Land instability is an ever present problem in the Gorge. Neal Rushton, the Council’s geotechnical engineer, outlined the difficulties in trying to arrest the problem, namely the steep slopes of the Gorge, the river Severn narrows through the Gorge, increasing its ability to erode the banks, 800 years of mining in the Gorge provided a honeycomb of tunnels most of which have never been mapped. He described the projects that are attempting to arrest land instability.

Visitors then had the opportunity to visits the sites along the Gorge affected by flooding and land instability.. This include a visit to Lloyds Head were movement from erosion of waste from a tile factory affects the stability of the road. Here a £3million project has commenced to drive 144 steel poles 30m into the side of the valley to arrest land slippage. There were visits to smaller scale schemes, such as the only adopted wooded road in England, which is designed to move with the land movements. Neal and Chris emphasised that the problems are becoming more frequent as rainfall from higher up the valley increases and any changes there will have major effects on the Gorge.


In the afternoon, Mary Dhonau of the National Flood Forum gave a presentation of the work of her organisation. The National Flood Forum represents the voice of the victims of flooding, often forgotten in the debate. She travels the country giving advice to victims as well as holding ‘flood fairs’ to highlight the threat, even for people who would not regard themselves as being in the frontline. The NFF believes that those in danger from flood need to be included in any flood risk management. Mary pointed out that there is the danger of the NFF ceasing to exist from April 2007 as a result of funding from the Environment Agency coming to an end.

Our sincere thanks for a most informative and enjoyable visit must go to Jonathan Lloyd, Telford and Wrekin Council, Mary Dhonau and the staff of the Green Wood Centre.

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