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Rising to the Challenge: Innovative Flood Barriers Help the Environment Agency Create Safer Spaces


One night, in the summer of 2007, it began to rain across various regions of England and Wales, and for the best part of two months afterwards it didn’t stop. 

The prolonged downpour led to widespread river and surface water flooding, including areas along the rivers Severn, Thames, Trent, and Yorkshire Ouse. The Midlands and the West Country were particularly affected. Some areas experienced a month's worth of rain in just a few hours. Thousands of homes and businesses across the country were impacted.

The floods prompted a reassessment of flood risk management and response strategies in the UK that would last three years. By 2010, this led to government approval for increased investment in flood defences and improvements in flood risk management infrastructure. 

That same year, the Environment Agency (EA) reached out to Fluvial Innovations’ founder and managing director, Simon Phelps, to determine whether his flood barriers could help.

Tidal protection_Brownsea Island & Floodstop

A Rising Challenge

On its mission to "create better places for people and wildlife, and support sustainable development”, the EA found the 2007 floods to be especially devastating. 

In addition to the widespread property damage:

  • transportation was severely disrupted, with roads and railways submerged, bridges washed away, and some areas cut off from emergency services
  • agricultural land was flooded, causing losses for farmers
  • the floods led to the evacuation of residents in some areas, and emergency shelters were set up to accommodate those displaced.

The impact of the floods highlighted the pressing need faced by the EA for increased flood management funding while exposing vulnerabilities in traditional defence measures when faced with flooding on the scale experienced in 2007. This was not localised flooding in high-risk areas but a country-wide distribution of rainfall requiring mobile solutions capable of being deployed quickly and manoeuvred effectively by small teams in emergency situations.

“Annual flood damage costs £1 billion – but this could rise to £27 billion by 2080.”Reducing flood risk: key issues for the 2010 Parliament

flood defence barrier

Beyond floodbanks: the future of flood defence

At face value, Simon’s range of flood barriers offered a straightforward solution to the problem of flooding. But Fluvial Innovations’ solutions lived up to their name, departing in several important ways from standard flood defences at the time to offer the EA a better, more effective way of protecting the environment and keeping communities safe.

  • Where traditional flood defence solutions were heavy, Simon developed units that were light and easy to handle. In many cases, one person could quickly deploy them.
  • Where flood defences were often static, fixed permanently in areas at high risk of flooding, Simon’s solutions were temporary. This led to highly manoeuvrable solutions that could be redeployed wherever and whenever as required. 
  • As well as being cumbersome, standard measures often needed significant storage space when not in use. This made them impractical to store and difficult to access in emergencies. Lightweight and robust, Simon’s solutions were easily stackable.

In conversation with Simon, Glen Bugler at the EA invested in the 0.5m FloodStop Barrier range. Quick to deploy, cost effective, and easy to store, it provided the ideal, future-proofed protection to flooding of the kind experienced in 2007 as well as the more localised, seasonal incidents expected at certain times each year across certain parts of the UK.

As Simon’s very first customer, the EA pioneered these solutions to deliver on flood management policy changes and offer improved protection for people and the environment.

Floodstop flood barrier from behind

Safer spaces, better places

Since 2010, the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events including storms, floods, and heavy rainfall have all increased across the UK. Over 14 years since his first purchase from Fluvial Innovations, Glen is still placing orders for new FloodStop Barrier units, attesting to their quality and the effectiveness as the EA scales up its flood defences.

“Flood defences and the work of Environment Agency staff have helped to protect more than 102,000 properties during Storm Henk and the recent flooding. [...] Environment Agency teams are out on the ground, working to minimise the impacts of flooding where possible by operating flood defences and clearing watercourses. ” Sarah Cook, Flood Duty Manager at the Environment Agency, Press Release

Today, Fluvial Innovations operates as part of the Emtez Group, where our shared environmental commitments and global distribution network enables us to offer Simon’s range of innovative flood barriers to storm-hit countries throughout Europe and beyond. 

Between 2010 and now, Simon has expanded the range to include FloodFence, Aquastop, and FloodBlock Barriers, leveraging the same core principles that made his initial FloodStop Barriers so effective across new solutions with a variety of specialist applications. 

When Simon picked up the phone to take his last order, late last year, it was Glen’s voice he heard on the other end. The climate crisis will challenge governments around the world for years to come, but so long as managing bodies like the EA maintain investment in solutions that push the boundaries of effective flood defence measures, they will continue to stem the tide, all the while raising the bar for rapid, responsible flood management everywhere. 

For more information about this project or to enquire about our range of flood barrier defences, click the image below to get in touch.