Protecting properties in Ironbridge – holding back the River Severn

Discover how the Environment Agency deployed temporary flood barriers along The Wharfage in Ironbridge during severe flooding on the River Severn in February 2022. Read on as Peter May reflects on the response to this event and the success of these barriers.

Written by Peter May | Head of Resilience and Water Management


We cannot stop flooding and there will always be locations where a permanent flood defence is just not viable. But thankfully that is no longer the end of the story. Property flood resilience measures now provide cost-effective options to help manage flood risk.

Temporary flood barriers are now routinely deployed to provide wider community flood protection. These might not offer the same high standards of protection as a major engineered flood defence scheme – and require careful emergency planning and management of residual risk – but they are far better than simply resorting to sandbags. Or worse still, doing nothing at all.

February 2022 floods

The Environment Agency and partners go to extraordinary lengths to help communities remaining at flood risk – in this case, where the River Severn flows through the narrow Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site.

Following the heavy rain from Storms Dudley and Eunice in 2022, the Environment Agency teams were once again mobilising barriers and pumps – including Geodesign temporary flood barriers, deployed along a 700m length on The Wharfage.

The rule book has been changed forever. The old consensus that nothing can be done has been replaced by the knowledge that something can be done. The barriers were a great success.
Shropshire Star, February 2004

Severe flood warning

A severe flood warning was issued, and residents were advised to evacuate, with forecasts indicating that river levels would come close to the top of the barriers.

In the end, the barriers held firm, successfully protecting properties along The Wharfage. Once again avoiding extensive damage and untold stress to the residents. This is despite the river peaking at near record levels of 6.65m – more than 5m above normal winter levels and nearly 0.5m higher than the flood during the first deployment in 2004.

The pilot trials

Today’s successes stem from early pilots in 2004, when the Environment Agency carried out a series of temporary flood barrier trials at locations along the River Severn, including The Wharfage in Ironbridge Gorge.

A flood event resulted in the activation of emergency plans and the temporary barriers were deployed for the first time in the UK. Around 100 properties across 3 locations were for the first time in their history protected from flooding by the systems deployed. The post-event review described the widespread euphoria of the residents, and the success of these innovative temporary flood barrier systems confirmed them as an invaluable new option in managing flood risk.

“It’s so rewarding to see how our Geodesign barrier yet again has kept residents and businesses in Ironbridge dry. There was a time when people were questioning whether a temporary flood barrier really could stand up to this much water. But I think the fact that our barrier has been deployed in Ironbridge numerous times since 2004 has proven that it really is strong enough.”

Britt Warg, UK Manager for Geodesign Barriers

The outlook

The use of these temporary flood barriers deployed through successful joint agency partnerships gives new hope of reducing flood risk to many communities who have previously had no other option than to rely on sandbags.

It is vital, however, for communities behind such barriers to recognise the risks, take all appropriate action and follow guidance from the emergency services during flood events. The recent flooding though demonstrates just how effective these temporary barriers can be as alternatives to sandbags, thanks to the dedication of the Environment Agency teams and emergency responders.

And in considering the alternative option, it has been estimated that over 62,000 sandbags would have been required to build a similar barrier in Ironbridge, equivalent to some 1350 tonnes and taking over 2 days to construct – and which would have inevitably failed.

Temporary flood barriers are now a vital ‘tool in the box’, alongside well-rehearsed deployment procedures, emergency plans and comprehensive risk assessments. As part of the Environment Agency’s wider flood risk management strategy, they are helping to enhance community resilience, saving enormous costs from flood damage and importantly, helping to reduce the dreadful impacts that floods exert on families and businesses alike.

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Want to know more?

As flood risk increases due to the impacts from climate change, such barrier systems can play an ever-greater role in enhancing community resilience and helping those at risk to adapt, respond and recover from flooding. For more information on how we can help with the assessment, modelling, planning and exercising of such temporary barrier systems please contact Peter May.

*Photo by kind permission of Geodesign Barriers.


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