Meadows and pastures


Meadows are areas or fields whose main vegetation is grass, or other non-woody plants, used for mowing and haying.  Pastures are grassed or wooded areas, moorland or heathland, generally used for grazing. Due to their rooted soils and their permanent cover, meadows and pastures provide good conditions for the uptake and storage of water during temporary floods. They also protect water quality by trapping sediments and assimilating nutrients.

The measure offers the potential for temporary flood storage, increased water retention in the landscape and runoff attenuation. Soil cover is maintained at all times with rooted vegetation, this reduces the surface flow of water and allows greater infiltration to the soil. Rates of soil erosion are considerably lower than arable land with potential benefits for water quality.

Buffer strips and hedges


Buffer strips are areas of natural vegetation cover (grass, bushes or trees) at the margin of fields, arable land, transport infrastructures and water courses. They can have several different configurations of vegetation found on them varying from simply grass to combinations of grass, trees, and shrubs.  Due to their permanent vegetation, buffer strips offer good conditions for effective water infiltration and slowing surface flow; they therefore promote the natural retention of water. They can also significantly reduce the amount of suspended solids, nitrates and phosphates originating from agricultural run-off. Buffer strips can be sited in riparian zones, or away from water bodies as field margins, headlands or within fields (e.g. beetle banks). Hedges across long, steep slopes may reduce soil erosion as they intercept and slow surface run-off water before it builds into damaging flow, particularly where there is a margin or buffer strip alongside. For the purpose of this catalogue, riparian buffer (see F1) are considered a separate NWRM as they generally have different design, implementation and management criteria.

Crop rotation


Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of dissimilar/different types of crops in the same area in sequential seasons. Judiciously applied (i.e. selecting a suitable crop) crop rotation can improve soil structure and fertility by alternating deep-rooted and shallow-rooted plants. In turn this can reduce erosion and increase infiltration capacity, thereby reducing downstream flood risk. It gives various benefits to the soil. A traditional element of crop rotation is the replenishment of nitrogen through the use of green manure in sequence with cereals and other crops. Crop rotation also mitigates the build-up of pathogens and pests that often occurs when one species is continuously cropped. However, as crop rotation has been traditionally practiced for agronomic reasons rather than to achieve environmental and water objectives, new practices may be required to ensure water retention benefits can be achieved. Some crops such as potatoes carry greater risks of erosion due to formation of ridges and the greater area of bare soil (see for example: Crop rotation can be used in combination with other measures when these are compatible with crop choice.

Strip cropping along contours


Strip cropping is a method of farming used when a slope is too steep or too long, or otherwise, when one does not have an alternative method of preventing soil erosion. It alternates strips of closely sown crops such as hay, wheat, or other small grains with strips of row crops, such as corn, soybeans, cotton, or sugar beets. Strip cropping helps to stop soil erosion by creating natural dams for water, helping to preserve the strength of the soil. Certain layers of plants will absorb minerals and water from the soil more effectively than others. When water reaches the weaker soil that lacks the minerals needed to make it stronger, it normally washes it away. When strips of soil are strong enough to slow down water from moving through them, the weaker soil can't wash away like it normally would. Because of this, farmland stays fertile much longer. There is no available information on the extent of strip cropping in Europe. The practice has been widespread in North America as a means of mitigating soil erosion from wind and water.



Intercropping is the practice of growing two or more crops in proximity. The most common goal of intercropping is to produce a greater yield on a given piece of land by making use of resources that would otherwise not be utilized by a single crop. Examples of intercropping strategies are planting a deep-rooted crop with a shallow-rooted crop, or planting a tall crop with a shorter crop that requires partial shade. Numerous types of intercropping, all of which vary the temporal and spatial mixture to some degree, have been identified: mixed intercropping, row cropping, relay cropping, etc.

No till agriculture


Tillage is a mechanical modification of the soil.  Intensive tillage can disturb the soil structure, thus increasing erosion, decreasing water retention capacity, reducing soil organic matter through the compaction and transformation of pores. No-till farming (also called zero tillage or direct drilling) is a way of growing crops or pasture from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage. No-till is an agricultural technique which increases the amount of water that infiltrates into the soil and increases organic matter retention and cycling of nutrients in the soil. In many agricultural regions it can eliminate soil erosion. The most powerful benefit of no-tillage is improvement in soil biological fertility, making soils more resilient.

Low till agriculture


Low till agriculture, also known as conservation or reduced till applies to arable land. It consists of a combination of a crop harvest which leaves at least 30% of crop residue on the soil surface, during the critical soil erosion period and some surface work (low till). This slows water movement, which reduces the amount of soil erosion and potentially leads to greater infiltration.

Green cover


Green cover (including cover crops or catch crops) refers to crops planted in late summer or autumn, usually on arable land, to protect the soil, which would otherwise lie bare during the winter, against wind and water erosion.  Green cover crops also improve the structure of the soil, diversify the cropping system, and mitigate the loss of soluble nutrients. 

Early sowing


Early sowing refers to sowing up to six weeks before the normal sowing season.  This allows for an earlier and quicker establishment of winter crops that can provide cover over winter and of a root network that leads to soil protection.  The period in which the soil lies bare is shorter and, therefore, erosion and run-off are less significant and water infiltration is improved.  Early sowing can also help to mitigate summer drought impacts on spring sown crops, in particular the extreme evapotranspiration rates of Mediterranean regions.  However, early sown plants are frost sensitive; therefore farmers run the risk of losing the crops because of the low temperatures.  In northern countries, temperature in spring (March) can be adequate but the risk of frost is still serious until May. The low temperatures in northern countries may also delay crop establishment in spring crops resulting in an increased risk of soil erosion, avoiding cultivation and retaining residues from preceding crops may be preferable.  Therefore, early sowing may require specific tools (plastic tunnel covers, onsite green house, etc.) and cannot be applied by all farmers for all crops. Early sowing of spring crops may also require different cultivation techniques (reduced tillage, controlled traffic farming) as soils are likely to be saturated before usual sowing times increasing the risk of soil compaction.  Restrictions on early sowing of winter crops include the harvest date of the preceding crop (particularly root crops) which may be later in northern Europe. For both spring and winter crops, early sowing involves a number of trade-offs. For example, different pest and disease risks arise that might require changes in management.

Traditional terracing


Traditional terraces consist of nearly level platforms built along contour lines of slopes, mostly sustained by stone walls, used for farming on hilly terrain.  By reducing the effective slope of land, terracing can reduce erosion and surface run-off by slowing rainwater to a non-erosive velocity. This also increases the degree if infiltration and improves soil moisture.  However, abandonment of traditional terracing can result in high levels of erosion and run-off due to the lack of maintenance of stone walls. Abandonment can also change the nature of local flora and fauna; this may not be beneficial, for example the spontaneous regeneration of vegetation can present a risk of wild fire spread on sloping land.

This measure focuses on existing or traditional terracing as it involves less disturbance of the terrain than modern terracing such as significant levelling or cutting using heavy machinery. As the measure is highly labour intensive and costly to implement the focus of the measure would be in maintaining existing terracing rather than expansion.

Controlled traffic farming


Controlled traffic farming (CTF) is a system which confines all machinery loads to the least possible area of permanent traffic lanes. Current farming systems allow machines to run at random over the land, compacting around 75% of the area within one season and at least the whole area by the second season. Soils don’t recover quickly, taking as much as a few years. A proper CTF system on the other hand can reduce tracking to just 15% and this is always in the same place. CTF is a tool; it does not include a prescription for tillage although most growers adopting CTF use little or none because soil structure does not need to be repaired. The permanent traffic lanes are normally parallel to each other and this is the most efficient way of achieving CTF, but the definition does not preclude tracking at an angle. The permanent traffic lanes may be cropped or non-cropped depending on a wide range of variables and local constraints.

Reduced stocking density


Livestock, particularly heavy species such as cattle, can have a number of damaging impacts on soil including compaction, destruction of soil structure (poaching) and loss of vegetation. These impacts can reduce infiltration of water into the soil, resulting in pooling and water logging with consequent impacts of denitrification and nitrous oxide emissions. Soil compaction will also increase the risk of run-off with consequent impacts on water quality and flood risks.

Reduced stocking density will limit soil compaction, thereby facilitating more rapid infiltration during precipitation events and potentially reducing peak flows and sediment runoff.  There may also be issues due to management decisions which can increase risks due to livestock without changing stocking levels. For example increased out-wintering of cattle to avoid housing costs will exacerbate risks due to the increased vulnerability of soils during the winter months. The measure may be effectively achieved by moving grazing livestock from high risk areas or by increasing the use of housing. Whether the reduction in pressure is achieved through direct reductions in stocking density, movement from high risk areas or housing, there will be impacts on farm business in terms of direct or opportunity costs.

Basins and ponds


Detention basins and ponds are water bodies storing surface run-off. A detention basin is free from water in dry weather flow conditions, whereas a pond (e.g. retention ponds, flood storage reservoirs, shallow impoundments) contains water during dry weather, and is designed to hold more when it rains.

Wetland restoration and management


According to the Convention on Wetlands (1971), a wetland is an area of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres. It provides water retention, biodiversity enhancement or water quality improvement. Wetland restoration and management can involve: technical, spatially large-scale measures (including the installation of ditches for rewetting or the cutback of dykes to enable flooding); technical small-scale measures such as clearing trees; changes in land-use and agricultural measures, such as adapting cultivation practices in wetland areas. They can improve the hydrological regime of degraded wetlands and generally enhance habitat quality. Creating artificial or constructed wetlands in urban areas can also contribute to flood attenuation, water quality improvement and habitat and landscape enhancement.

Floodplain restoration and management


A floodplain is the area bordering a river that naturally provides space for the retention of flood and rainwater.  Floodplain soils are generally very fertile and they have often been dried-out to be used as agricultural land. Floodplains in many places have also been separated from the river by dikes, berms or other structures designed to control the flow of the river. They have also been covered by legacy sediments.

Major floodplains roles have thus been lost, due to land drainage, intensive urbanization and river channelization. The objective is to restore them, their retention capacity and ecosystem functions, by reconnecting them to the river.

Restoring the floodplain roles requires measures such as:

-          modification of the channel,

-          removing of the legacy sediment

-          creation of lakes or ponds in the floodplain

-          new/modification of agricultural practices,

-          afforestation, etc.

-          plantation of native grasses, shrubs and trees

-          creation of grassy basins and swales

-          wetland creation

-          invasive species removal

-          riparian buffer installation and development



A river meander is a U-form taken by the river, allowing it to decrease water velocity. In the past, rivers have been straightened by cutting off meanders. Many rivers in northern and Western Europe have been straightened and channelized to, for example, facilitate log floating and/or speed up the drainage of water and control/limit the river bed movements. Channelizing was also a way to gain land for cultivation. River re-meandering consists in creating a new meandering course or reconnecting cut-off meanders, therefore slowing down the river flow. The new form of the river channel creates new flow conditions and very often also has a positive impact on sedimentation and biodiversity. The newly created or reconnected meanders also provide habitats for a wide range of aquatic and land species of plants and animals.

Stream bed re-naturalization


Streambed (or riverbed) represents the floor of the river, including each riverbank. In the past, riverbeds were artificially reconstructed with concrete or big stones, therefore modifying flows and decreasing fauna habitat and vegetation diversity. Those modifications were aiming at flood prevention or supporting changes of agricultural practices for example. This has led to uniformed flows in the rivers and often having effect of reducing travel time along the river. Streambed re-naturalization consists in removing some concrete or inert constructions in the riverbed and on riverbanks, then replacing them with vegetation structures, in order to avoid these damages and restore biodiversity.

The re-naturalization of river beds and banks could have a high impact on the erosion process. Stabilisation techniques are among the main measures to be implemented. The maximum impact is reached when the stabilisation technique restores the vegetation cover and the naturalness of the banks. Most of the time, techniques use plants for bank stabilization. According to their degree of complexity, these techniques can be grouped into two categories:

-          bank re-naturalization

-          plant engineering

Bank re-naturalization is a stabilisation technique used to correct mild erosion problems and that does not require a high degree of expertise to be implemented.

Plant engineering is defined as the techniques combining the principles of ecology and engineering to design and implement slope, bank and bank stabilisation works, using plants as raw materials for making vegetable frames.

Restoration and reconnection of seasonal streams


Seasonal streams or intermittent rivers are rivers for which surface water ceases to flow at some point in space and time. They comprise a large proportion of the global river network and are characterized by dynamic exchanges between terrestrial and aquatic habitats. These habitats support aquatic, semi-aquatic, and terrestrial biota. Seasonal streams provide essential ecosystem services to society, including flood control and irrigation. The abundance and distribution of seasonal streams, and their natural intermittent flow regimes, are being altered by climate change, water abstraction and inter-basin transfers. Despite their values and ongoing alterations, seasonal streams are chronically under-studied and protective management is inadequate. Restoring and reconnecting seasonal streams with the river consists in, therefore favouring the overall functioning of the river by restoring lateral connectivity, diversifying flows and ensuring the proper functioning of these seasonal streams for a better water retention during floods.

Reconnection of oxbow lakes and similar features


An oxbow lake is an ancient meander that was cut off from the river, thus creating a small lake with a U form. Reconnecting it with the river consists in removing terrestrial lands between both water bodies, therefore favouring the overall functioning of the river by restoring lateral connectivity, diversifying flows and cleaning the river section of the present oxbow for a better  water retention during floods.

Riverbed material renaturalization


Riverbed material represents the sediment eroded upstream, transported by the river and deposited on the river floor. It can be composed of coarse and/or fine material. Its re-naturalization consists in recovering the nature-like structure and composition of the bed load, in particular the equilibrium between coarse and fine sediment. In case of deficit of coarse sediment leading to river incision, the main objective is to level-up the riverbed with this type of sediment, by reactivating bank erosion in terrains contributing to this type of sediment. It should be noticed that in case of excess of fine sediment causing inundations, silting of hydro-electric dams or degradation of fish habitats, the main objective is to control erosion on slopes and riverbanks providing this type of sediment.

Removal of dams and other longitudinal barriers


Dams and other transversal barriers are obstacles crossing the river section and causing discontinuities for sediment and fauna. Removing them consists in destroying all the obstacles, restoring the slope and the longitudinal profile of the river, therefore allowing re-establishment of fluvial dynamics, as well as sedimentary and ecological continuity.

Natural bank stabilisation


Riverbank represents both natural and artificial terrain following the river flow. In the past, lots of artificial banks were built with concrete or other types of retention walls, therefore limiting rivers’ natural movements, leading to degradation of the river, increased water flow, increased erosion and decreased biodiversity. River bank renaturalisation consists in recovering its ecological components, thus reversing such damages and especially allowing bank to be stabilized, as well as rivers to move more freely. Nature-based solutions such as bioengineering are preferable, but civil engineering has to be used in case of strong hydrological constraints.

Elimination of riverbank protection


A riverbank protection is an inert or living construction providing bank fixation but also an obstacle for the lateral connection of the river. Eliminating it consists in removing some parts of the bank protection, especially the inert one, in order to enhance lateral connections of the river, diversify flows (depth, substrate, and speed) and habitats, but also cap floods in the mainstream. It is a prerequisite for many other measures like re-meandering or widening, as well as initiating later channel migration and dynamics.

This measure is appropriate and very efficient in impounded large gravel riverbeds where gravel bars are drowned and shallow low-velocity habitats are virtually absent. In these impounded rivers, spawning and nursery habitats like shallow near-bank gravel bars, side channels, and backwaters are often the bottleneck for stream-type specific fish species. River banks have been heavily fixed and the potential for river restoration is limited due to uses like navigation, hydropower or flood protection and mitigation measures are restricted to the river banks.

Lake restoration


A Lake is a water retention facility. It can store water (for flood control) and provide water for many purposes such as water supply, irrigation, fisheries, tourism, etc. In addition, it serves as a sink for carbon storage and provides important habitats for numerous species of plants and animals, including waders. In the past, lakes have sometimes been drained to free the land for agriculture purposes, or have simply not been maintained and have silted up. Restoring lakes consists in enhancing their structure and functioning where they have been drained in former times.

Restoration of natural infiltration to groundwater


Groundwater is the part of infiltrated water which composes the water resource for population and human activities.  Previous modifications of the landscape have reduced the infiltration capacity of many European soils, thereby limiting the rate at which precipitation is able to infiltrate and recharge groundwater aquifers. Restoration of natural infiltration to groundwater enables a lowering of run-off from surrounding land, and enhances the condition of groundwater aquifers and water availability. The natural cleaning processes associated with infiltration can improve water quality. This measure can also be known as “Artificial Groundwater Recharge” in the engineering literature.

Mechanisms to restore or enhance natural infiltration capacity include:

(i) surface structures to facilitate/augment recharge (such as soakaways and infiltration basins);

(ii) subsurface indirect recharge – infiltration capacity is enhanced through wells drilled within the unsaturated zone; and

(iii) subsurface direct recharge – infiltration and recharge of the groundwater aquifer is accomplished through wells reaching the saturated zone.


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