The main question being: How can we use the processes and forces of nature to build our flood safety?

It is about rivers and coastal systems, about finances and added value, called ecosystem services, it is about politics and governance. And thus it is about people, about what they are allowed to do, about what they want, about what is feasible and about what is affordable. Building with Nature is about making decisions and for that a lot of information from different disciplines is required. The Interreg North Sea Region project Building with Nature is a series of first steps in bringing together different disciplines and allow them to work together on similar cases, building up different types of knowledge on the same physical spot and bringing that together. Also, cases were compared amongst themselves to learn about other systems.

Partnering up

Interreg VB North Sea Region Building with Nature, that is the formal name of this project and it indicates several things. Interreg VB, the 5th programme of the European Regional Development Fund means the European Union has put faith and money on the development of this project. It is taking place in the North Sea Region, involving 15 partner organisations from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Schlesswig-Holstein (DE), Niedersachsen (DE), the Netherlands, Belgium and Scotland (UK).

The project started per November 11th 2015 and will last until June 2021. "I joined in June 2016 through networking and was firmly educated by my appreciated colleague Liesbeth van Riet-Paap. The partners were new to me then and it has struck me how easily this bunch of civil servants, academics and dredgers developed into a tight interdisciplinary network. People with open minds that reached out to learn and take their new insights home", says Egon Baldal, project manager of the Building with Nature programme.

Dedication to the environment of study

He proceeds: "One of the most striking things to me was the brilliant simplicity of the log jams in Scotland. Tree trunks hanging above the average water level and start working as barriers in times of high run off the hillside. Slowing discharge down and lowering the peak. So easy and so cheap to maintain: asset management consisted of planting new trees and sharpening your axe."

"Also, the hard work that was put into the co-analysis of millions of data points from the eastern North Sea shore morphodynamics is just as impressive. It required aligning paradigms, data sets, raw computational power and endurance to be able to this. No wonder these tough guys dive into the North Sea whenever they can. I never met people so physically dedicated to their environment of study."

Capacity building

"Building business cases with more than just monetary data turned out to be a challenge, that is met by our Business case guidance model integrating various types of knowledge. For example the Noorderzijlvest partner had great advantage using this in their twin dike experiments", Egon explains.

"The Policy Learning Group of the project consisting of high level individuals from around our organizations produced Policy Briefs at both the EU, national and, in some cases, even regional level. An achievement that can be matched maybe by the capacity building that was performed at IHE Delft, where Building with Nature summer courses were taught to interested professionals from over the world."

And that last part is of major importance as well: capacity building, dissemination of our results, communicating. Egon: "It has been done at great length in this project. To highlight some: we gave speeches in Tallinn (EE) in October 2016 at the EU Flagship Conference on Nature Based Solutions. Ms Rosanna Cunningham, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform visited the Eddleston project. In the 2018 United Nations World Water Report on Nature Based Solutions for water, the project was treated in box 5.9. We gave workshops at the North Sea Conference in Fredrikstad (NO) in 2018 and even a keynote speech at the 2019 version in Marstrand (SE). Our work won the prize for best poster at the 2019 IWA conference in Hong Kong (CN). In February 2020 we held a keynote speech at the Interreg Atlantic Region Triple C conference in Vila Real (PT). We could follow the tracks of our people worldwide, and thus we attracted interest from Chile, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Australia and Panama and so on and so forth when people visited those areas."

"Cooperation with other projects helped us tremendously in building our framework. The close cooperation there is between several people from the Rijkswaterstaat partner and the Scottish group with the British Environment Agency, United States Army Corps of Engineers. Together they are making a Natural and Nature Based features Handbook. A grand endeavor that will set a hallmark for Nature Based Solutions in the future."

And, closer to home, Building with Nature was brought together with 6 other climate adaptation related Interreg North Sea Region projects. "Together they cascaded into the C5a project which integrates the different views and disciplines to achieve better insight in socio-ecological resilience and adaptive asset management in the light of climate change", says Egon.

Intergrating the solutions in the toolbox

The next step for Building with Nature, or nature Based Solutions, is to be truly integrated in the toolbox of engineers and planners. "Now that it has been proven that the approach works, it needs to be matured into a trusted set of equipment. This means that next step would be to make the asset management and life cycle performance predictable, the calculations of the ecosystem services accountable, the effects on ecosystems acceptable and stakeholder involvement of the locals a first step. The adaptable features of most Nature Based Solutions makes it a key element for flexibility in times of uncertainty in decision making. Together as organizations, cultures and disciplines we can make a sturdy framework for this. The Building with Nature project led the way and now it’s time for a next step", Egon concludes.

Egon Baldal, 2018

Egon Baldal, Project Manager