London is protected by the Thames Barrier which was constructed after widespread flooding in 1953Credit:Stefan Rousseau/PA Thousands were evacuated in January because of flood warnings caused by a storm surge on England’s east coastCredit:Paul Grover/Telegraph The concrete wall could have simply been extended, but council leader Stephen Parnaby praised the glass as “sympathetic along a river front which is popular with visitors”. Local authorities and groups are coming round to a combination of tactics, marrying up natural measures, such as tree planting and wetland restoration, with traditional hard engineering approaches such as concrete barriers.The National Trust’s work in Exmoor has gone back to nature to tackle the effects of climate change. Their project involved diverting surface water and creating catch pools and water meadows on the moors. It has given the villages of Bossington and Allerford extra protection by using natural processes to slow the rivers that flow down to them. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) is spending £2.5 billion to protect against flooding in a six-year programme until 2021, which it claims will better protect 300,000 homes.The majority of this goes to the Environment Agency, whose capital budget is spent directly on building flood defences and refurbishing substandard ones. In 2016, 130 schemes were completed as part of this capital investment. “A mix or a mosaic of approaches across our landscape allows us to harness all of the opportunities to soak up rainwater, hold back the rainwater where it falls, slow the flow in rivers and make room for floodwaters downstream, whilst protecting existing communities at risk of flooding.” Professor Robert Duck, a coastal expert at the University of Dundee, warned that although hard engineering is important, we cannot use it to “defend at all costs” and instead must look at natural solutions – including managed retreat in the face of rising seas.He said: “We cannot defend our coasts at all costs with hard engineering structures such as sea walls and rock armour. This would cause many more problems than it would solve – and the costs would be astronomic. Nature and natural processes will always win in the long term. We must, where possible, work with nature rather than against nature and adapt to the impacts of climate change rather than fight the sea as an enemy.” The toll of flooding on BritainThe Committee on Climate Change, whose job is to look into Government policy, sees flooding as the UK’s biggest threat over the next five years.Devastating floods have left thousands homeless and caused billions of pounds of damage in recent years, hitting areas such as Cumbria, Yorkshire and Somerset. I think until we totally accept that flooding seems to be now part of living in Britain we can never be fully preparedSue Cashmore, Cockermouth resident Storm Desmond causes widespread flooding in Cockermouth in December 2015Credit:Toby Smith/Getty Images While there is substantial funding going into flood defences, we need to rethink how the whole landscape can be used to manage water. The UK is set to be hit by a vicious combination of extreme storms, intense downpours and rising sea levels as it faces the next century.Seven of our 10 wettest years have occurred since 1998. 2013 had the UK’s wettest winter in history, and it was followed just two years later by the next wettest.For centuries, Britain has been draining wetlands, reclaiming salt marshes and lining rivers with concrete banks. Taken from the water, this land has been built on and has driven rapid development. We must […] work with nature rather than against nature and adapt to the impacts of climate changeProfessor Rob Duck, University of Dundee The Paull flood defence includes the UK’s longest glass flood wallCredit:East Riding of Yorkshire Council But this isn’t enough, according to experts, who advocate working upstream with natural water processes to hold back floodwater. This is why further funding has been targeted at areas upstream of the city, where trees have been planted in the upper catchment to slow the flow from the river’s source in the Yorkshire Dales.Professor Hannah Cloke, Professor of Hydrology at the University of Reading, argued that lots of similar small interventions upstream, used in conjunction with larger engineered defences in urban areas downstream, could be the key. Despite this, Ms Cashmore warned that “until we totally accept that flooding seems to be now part of living in Britain we can never be fully prepared”.The price of not being prepared is clear. Just two years before the latest flooding, another wave of floods caused an estimated £1.3bn of damage. Defences that might historically have provided protection against a 1 in 100 year flood will […] be overtopped more frequentlyLord Deben, Chairman, Committee on Climate Change Natural flood management already forms an important part of our approach in protecting communities from flood riskDefra We are now in a situation where 5.9 million properties in England and Wales are at risk, according to the Environment Agency – one in six of the total.Properties in Hull, Peterborough and Doncaster are particularly at risk from rivers and the sea. In the PE11 postcode area of Peterborough, 68 per cent of properties – a total of 18,110 – have a chance of flooding in any given year of greater than one in 100. Storm Desmond broke a new record for national rainfall accumulation in a 24-hour period, dropping 34cm of rain at Honister Pass in Cumbria in the 24 hours after 6.30pm on 4 December 2015. The subsequent floods impacted 16,000 homes, amounting to a cost of over £5 billion. Around £1 billion of this wasn’t insured.In Cockermouth, many shops still remain empty and difficult to rent, according to local community groups.Sue Cashmore, from the Cockermouth Flood Action Group, told The Telegraph: “Recovery is always slow and protracted but we do recover. Repeated floods are changing the town though. My area has flooded four times in 10 years and is now a different community. Many of the houses are now rentals which means the community is transient with no commitment.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. [Floods] will happen and they’ll happen across the country and will often be unexpected and sometimes unpredictableProfessor Hannah Cloke, University of Reading Is this enough when the problem is going to get worse?Former Prime Minister David Cameron warned that “we’re in it for the long haul”. Weather forecasts indicate that we’re not only in it for the long haul – but we have to be prepared for worsening conditions.Met Office scientists have said that, by the end of the century, climate change will lead to drier summers that have intense, heavier downpours – carrying a risk of flash flooding.Winters will be wetter, with the potential for higher daily rainfall. This is because a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, which in turn leads to intensified rainfall.The Met Office’s latest exercises concluded that, in any winter, there is a one in 10 chance of existing monthly rainfall records being matched or broken in any of the UK’s regions.Rising seas add to the problem. The Government’s flooding review said that the UK will likely face a further 11-16cm of sea level rise by 2030, relative to 1990. £45m of funding was provided to Leeds, where a flood alleviation scheme on the River Aire will be completed in May. It includes the UK’s first moveable weirs, which can be lowered in flood conditions to reduce river levels. Defra says this will better protect 200 homes and businesses. The University of Reading’s Professor Cloke believes this strategy can work.She said: “We have a lot of people living at risk of flooding in this country and there are many situations where structural defences such as barriers and riverside protections are essential. We cannot remove the resources required to implement and maintain these defences. But defences should be supported by a wider flood risk management strategy that also thinks about the landscape around us and how we can use it to help us prepare for floods.”This means that we consider how farmland is managed and how land is developed for properties. Lots of small natural interventions could have a significant overall effect. There’s a great deal of scientific research into this problem underway at the moment.”There are barriers to this work, not least of which are the financial incentives for farming practices that reduce flood risk, according to the National Trust’s Freshwater and Estuaries National Specialist, Stewart Clarke.He said that “until there’s a market for green farming that helps reduce flood risk […] landowners and farmers are always going to think twice about natural flood management initiatives.” But as the climate changes and rainfall records are broken through the next century, there are concerns about the country’s ability to tackle the floods it will bring. Already they’re forcing a retreat: Defences are being built further back from their predecessors, sea walls are being allowed to be breached, and experts are warning that our current defences can’t hold back extreme flooding.Experts are now saying that we can’t fight every flood with our armoury of flood walls and barriers, and that we must work with nature to combat this old but increasingly dangerous adversary.Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, warned: “Despite the significant investment that has taken place in recent years – £38m was spent improving flood defences in Carlisle after the 2005 floods; £4.4m in Cockermouth and £6m in Keswick after 2009 – severe flooding can still be expected. Role models for defenceThere are areas that, despite being at high risk, have been able to protect themselves.Near Hull – a city which has thousands of properties at risk of flooding – the UK’s longest glass flood wall was installed last year. The aluminium-framed glass wall is 520 metres long and is designed to protect 14,000 homes along the Humber estuary. It added 1.1 metres to the defence which was already protecting the town of Paull, which now stands at 6.8m above the sea. This has hit the town’s tourism, local economy and, according to Ms Cashmore, the beauty of the town. To combat this, the group has created an Emergency Response Group so people can be called on to help move the vulnerable. “Defences that might historically have provided protection against a 1 in 100 year flood will, with climate change, provide a much lower level of protection and be overtopped more frequently. The latest projections suggest periods of intense rainfall could increase in frequency by a factor of five this century as global temperatures rise.” According to a study by the Woodland Trust and Coed Cymru, planting trees on slopes increases the amount of water the soil can absorb by up to 60 times compared to pasture. A Defra spokesperson said: “We are investing a record £2.5 billion to better protect the country from flooding over six years, bringing an end to year on year fluctuations in spending. This includes over 1,500 flood defence schemes, which will better protect more than 300,000 homes by 2021.”Traditional hard defences are just one of the many important ways we look to reduce the risk of flooding. Natural flood management already forms an important part of our approach in protecting communities from flood risk – that is why we are spending a further £15m on such schemes across the country.”But even if we do build a greater focus on managing natural water processes across the country, we will always be at the mercy of the next extreme weather event.Professor Cloke added: “It is so very important to remember that even a full mosaic of measures can never protect us from the biggest floods, particularly for those living with the legacy of floodplain housing. We saw this in Carlisle. The defences were built to a high flood protection standard, but then some particularly heavy rainfall lead to a large flood. We need to become more resilient to these large floods. On top of this, one in 10 new homes were created in areas of high flood risk last year, allowing more people to live under the threat of flooding. Waiting to combat these barriers isn’t an option for some. There are currently hundreds of key sites that are at risk of floods. The Government estimates that 530 important infrastructure sites across England – including water supplies, telecommunications and health systems and electricity networks – are vulnerable. “They will happen and they’ll happen across the country and will often be unexpected and sometimes unpredictable. Holding back the water with whatever method will not always work, and so we must prepare for floodwaters and ensure our houses and businesses can withstand them if they do come.” The solutions are varied and complexWe can never know when or where the next flood will hit. Data tells us that they’re likely to become more frequent, and that there are particular areas that are more at risk than others, but forecasting can only go so far.