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Geoscientist Online

Taming the Flood

aeryqThis is the third edition of what is often referred to as a classic text on the subject of river management.  Originally published in 1986 and last updated in 1988, the book has again been updated to reflect significant developments in the area over the last 25 years, and also to reflect on what the future direction of river management may be after large-scale winter flooding across Southern England in early 2014.

The main body of the text is largely unchanged from previous editions, although comprehensive footnotes provide updates to many of the examples cited in the original text.  In addition a completely new chapter has been added as an addendum, discussing current philosophies guiding river management in the UK, and discussing the possible impact of the 2014 flooding in shaping future flood management strategy.

The principal theme of the book is the management of lowland river systems in the years following WW2, although additional historical context is also provided with coverage of the early engineered drainage of lowland Britain by the likes of Vermuyden.  During the postwar period many agricultural drainage schemes were promoted as a way of improving land and helping the drive towards self-sufficiency in food production, with additional purported benefits of improving flood management.  The consequences of these schemes were canalisation of numerous lowland water courses, loss of biodiversity in fluvial systems and, in many cases, increased intensity of flooding events.  

The author makes clear that he believes it was market distortions from agricultural subsidy schemes that acted as the catalyst for many of these schemes.  However, sufficient context and balance is provided to ensure that the book does not turn into an anti-farming polemic.

Although not a technical text, Taming the Flood does provide a useful and easy-to-read contextual background to the subject of lowland river management for readers who, like myself as a hydrogeologist, have an occasional need to dip into the subject.  In my view the book would benefit from some additional detail on the subject of upland river management and impacts of upland management on downstream flooding and the condition of peat uplands.  However, on balance, I found Taming the Flood to provide an interesting and valuable insight into an area that is seldom covered in popular science literature, and I would recommended it to anyone interested in the subject.

Reviewed by John Heneghan

TAMING THE FLOOD by JEREMY PURSEGLOVE, 2015.  Published by: William Collins (397pp) (hbk) ISBN: 9780008129354 List Price: £25.00