The government-run organisation in charge of the country’s motorways and major A-roads is investing £420,000 in “natural” flood defences in northern England. The pilot scheme will see National Highways undertake 13 “natural flood management” projects in Yorkshire and the north-west of England to help stop main roads flooding.

Natural flood management schemes are designed to slow or store water in the natural landscape, either by emulating or enhancing natural processes. This can involve changing the way land is managed so soil can absorb more water, as well as creating storage ponds, planting woodland and building ‘leaky dams’, which regulate the flow of surface water.

A total of 13 projects will get the funding, with the first round of the project covering parts of the Little Don, River Etherow and River Irwell catchments. It’s hoped these schemes will benefit major roads including the M60, M62 and M66, as well as the A58 and A616.

Heavy traffic on wet British motorway at night

Although the scheme is currently just a pilot, a second round of bidding to increase the number of projects involved will open later this month. Successful projects will receive a share of just under £250,000 to protect other sections of the UK’s strategic road network.

“This pilot will explore how we can work with farmers and landowners to reduce flood risk on sections of the strategic road network known to be particularly vulnerable to flooding,” said Ivan Le Fevre, the head of environment at National Highways. “It’s an innovative catchment-based approach to an issue that poses safety risks to road users and one that we normally tackle through engineering. By developing flood alleviation schemes throughout the catchment areas of these three rivers we are tackling the issue at source.

“We’ve been staggered by the phenomenal response to the scheme. We had so many applications, which shows there’s a real appetite for natural solutions and our successful bidders are now playing an important role in reducing flooding in downstream areas.”

Miriam Cates, the MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge – one of the areas in which projects are being funded – said the schemes would benefit road safety and the natural world.

“It’s so encouraging to see a different, nature-based approach to an issue that has wide-reaching consequences on the strategic road network and local communities,” she said. “This National Highways pilot has the potential to deliver real benefits, not just for public safety, but also for our environment. It will be interesting to see the results.”