How will your business cope with weather extremes?

I am not a climate change expert, and therefore am not qualified to state if the weather we are experiencing is due to the activity of man or the cyclical changes that this planet has been subjected to since it was formed. My assumption that it is cyclical changes exacerbated by manmade pollutants that are speeding up climatic changes.

What is certain however, is that our climate is changing with extremes of weather becoming common place. Over the last few weeks, ‘Lucifer’ has brought temperatures in the mid 40’s to the southern and eastern Mediterranean, even on islands where sea breezes generally keep the air a little cooler.

Flooding, high winds and record snow falls are also becoming more common, and we are powerless to prevent them. What we can do however is mitigate, and engineer our landscapes to provide a buffer. We cannot continue to construct using hard, impermeable surfaces, we must incorporate nature into our planning, not just for aesthetic reasons, but for practical and economic reasons.

Flooding has become a major problem in recent years. Towns and cities, covered in tarmac and concrete, become rivers in heavy downpours, the drainage systems unable to cope with the torrents of water being channelled into them. It’s not much better in the countryside, we only have to think back to the terrible flooding on the Somerset levels in 2013/14 to remember the devastation that lasted weeks.

We have ignored nature’s safety net at our peril, and whilst we continue to do so, we will remain at risk. Water companies and environmental organisations recognise that their guidance is crucial in conserving precious water supplies and preventing flooding. They are devising new schemes for creating mini reservoirs, lakes and water courses to slow the flow of water downstream, giving it time to soak through into the underground reserves instead of gathering momentum as it reaches built up areas. Beavers have been introduced into some areas as their dam building skills have long been known to help prevent serious flooding.

Although controlling the flow of water from the hills is important, so also is altering planning procedures to stop our towns and cities becoming concrete jungles with nowhere for the water to go. With parking at a premium, houses often pave over their front garden to provide space for a car or two. Gardens are marked out with patios, decking and sheds for storage. There is precious little left over to provide soakaway, so that when the heavens open, there is nowhere else for the rain to go but down the drains which fail to cope, back up and cause floods. The rain that does rush through the drains, ends up in the local river, the levels rise and sometimes burst their banks.

Giving the water time to seep down to the underground water tables also helps conserve supplies, preventing fresh water from being washed out to sea. This helps mitigate the risk of drought conditions in long hot periods.

Rain gardens are a great idea for area where there is limited space for water to soak away. These are small planting areas with depressions or holes that allow rainwater to runoff areas such as roofs, drives and car parks. They encourage the absorption of stormwater into the ground and help improve water quality in local watercourses, keeping plants healthy and preventing the ground from drying out which, in prolonged dry conditions, can impact on the foundations of buildings. Rain gardens have been shown to reduce pollution entering watercourses by up to 30%.

Maintaining water levels in the ground, watercourses or underground, can also impact on temperatures. Water will help keep temperatures cooler in hot weather, and can prevent temperatures from plummeting in cold weather. Flowing water, whether it is rivers, streams or canals will help regulate our environment and therefore should be protected and nurtured where possible.

Flooding has a major impact on business. Whether the damage is to premises, stock or causing a disruption to the supply and distribution chains, flooding can have serious financial implications. We only have to think back a few weeks to the flooding in Coverack, Cornwall which isolated the community for several days just as it was about to enter the peak holiday season. Whilst the initial disruption only lasted a few days, the impact is lasting all summer with potential visitors put off by the news stories.

Therefore, it makes economic sense to take some steps now to prevent potential flooding.

Make sure there is sufficient green space around your site to encourage water to soak away. Construct some ponds or rain gardens to capture flood water and slow it down. Draw up a contingency plan for your business in case your premises are flooded or there is a risk to your supply and distribution chain.

Sometimes, no matter what steps we take, nature sends us weather that overwhelms us. Just like trees in strong winds, those which bend survive. Make sure your business is ready for whatever the weather sends us – be ready to bend in the storm.

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