The Role of Runoff Attenuation Features (RAFs) in Natural Flood Management

Natural Flood Management (NFM) and catchment-based solutions for flood risk management and environmental problems are wide-ranging and complex. Management of fluvial flood risk in the UK is undergoing a fundamental shift, with a change in emphasis from solely working with structural defences to considering catchment-based measures which attenuate flood runoff. At the heart of this change are NFM and nature-based solutions. One key type of intervention is the Runoff Attenuation Feature (RAF): a class of features that targets runoff flow pathways and creates new temporary flow storage (such as ponds and leaky barriers). However, there is currently a lack of evidence for the effectiveness of NFM and RAFs at larger catchment scales and for managing extreme flood events. Nevertheless, there is a strong evidence base to suggest that well-designed RAFs deliver a range of ecosystem services if installed in the correct location. This paper reviews and critiques the role of RAFs and NFM as an interventionist and holistic approach to lowering runoff rates. The link between RAF design types and their relationship to land use and scale is made. Recent novel innovations and attempts to scale up RAFs are discussed. The role of antecedent conditions, groundwater and the change in residence time of processes is highlighted. The uncertainty and complexity of proving NFM effectiveness underpin a view that new thinking in catchment flood management is needed. New research is required, and many questions are raised about RAFs and NFM. The direction of travel is that a positive and proactive NFM community can now embrace the problem. Proof that RAFs and NFM can address flood management is not likely to be resolved without a great deal of further research but confidence that RAFs do beneficial work is growing and an argument for greater amounts of runoff attenuation is made.
Publication history: Accepted - 18 November 2022; Published online - 23 November 2022
natural flood management, catchment management, hydrology
Quinn, P.F., Hewett, C.J.M., Wilkinson, M.E. and Adams, R. (2022) ‘The Role of Runoff Attenuation Features (RAFs) in Natural Flood Management’, Water. MDPI AG. Available at: