PROJECTS in the North have been highlighted as examples of innovative ways of protecting communities from floods.
The Environment Agency warned that floods are now the number one natural hazard facing the UK, and climate change means more homes will be at risk.
But simply building bigger walls to protect families and businesses is not the answer, the agency said.
In Belford in Northumberland, which suffers frequent flooding when rain runs off nearby farmland, ponds have been installed which store flood water.
Woodland has also been planted to slow the flow of water, as a cheap and effective way of reducing floods.
In County Durham, the £10m River Gaunless scheme protects 660 homes and businesses in West Auckland and South Church.
It features a 15-metre high dam upstream of West Auckland, which stores water during flood conditions and then releases it slowly.
It can hold up to a million cubic metres of water, forming a lake half a mile long behind the dam, which can then be let out gradually.
More than 32,000 trees and shrubs have also been planted to turn the 25-acre site into a wetland habitat.
And breaches have also been made in flood banks near Wooler in Northumberland, to allow the River Till to reclaim its natural flood plain.
In Cockermouth in Cumbria, which flooded in 2009, the first self-raising flood gates are being installed which use the power of flood water to lift the barrier and hold it up. The gates will fall as the water recedes.
In nearby Keswick, which also flooded in 2009, a new glass defence has been built to protect the town from flooding while preserving its views of the river and Lake District hills, which a concrete barrier would have obscured.
Pete Fox, head of strategy and investment at the Environment Agency, said: “We are increasingly looking at more innovative ways of dealing with flooding as well as softer defences such as using purpose-built ponds to store flood water, and building in better drainage for towns and cities.
“But we cannot prevent flooding entirely and so it is vitally important that people protect themselves from flooding by finding out if they are at risk, and signing up to free flood warnings.”
The Environment Agency said being prepared for floods was the most important thing people could do to minimise damage to homes and belongings, and urged people to sign up to warnings which are delivered free by text, phone, email and social media.
For details, go to www.environment-agency.gov.uk