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Saturday, June 15, 2024
The Parrett Catchment Project

Big Sponge Campaign


Without the grassroots support of the public and local communities the PCP would struggle to achieve anything. One way that the PCP has engaged and involved the public is through an initiative called The Big Sponge. This was designed to enable ordinary people to get involved in the battle against flooding and 'do their bit'.


Based on the same contept as our engineering and farm projects but on a much smaller though much wider scale, The Big Sponge was designed to get people thinking about the whole catchment as a giant sponge, absorbing and storing as much rainfall as possible rather than have it just running off into drains and water courses.

Milborne Port Primary School pupils enjoying their new pond
Milborne Port Primary School pupils enjoying their new pond
East Coker Primary School's new pond
East Coker Primary School's new pond
The Big Sponge Logo

Public involvement was crucial in this campaign because those very places where we live and work, in our urban or residential centres, are the worst at absorbing and storing rainwater; where once soil and vegetation absorbed rainfall often there is now concrete, Tarmac and tiles. The increasing tendency for homeowners to concrete over their front lawns to create extra parking space has also been identified as contributing to the problem. The loss of one front garden here or there has minimal impact but multiply by hundreds of gardens and you are looking at a huge area of ground lost, not to mention the wildlife loss. Runoff from these non-porous surfaces goes straight into drains and reaches rivers with nothing to slow it down. If those rivers are already swollen after heavy rainfall they may be unable to cope and can burst their banks. So, runoff from urban development can end up contributing to flooding, with devastating impacts on homes, businesses, farmland and wildlife.


To offset the impact of these trends in urban areas, the PCP called on homeowners, community groups and schools to create a network of small-scale flood storage schemes by constructing ponds and installing water butts to collect the rainfall. While it may not seem like much, if everybody makes an effort, the combined result could be huge. For example, if every household in the catchment had one water butt collecting rainwater then the equivalent of 8 Olympic swimming pools worth of water could be held in storage. So, every little really does help.


Although now finished, the legacy of the campaign will live on. The ponds and waterbutts have been a fantastic investment, and they will continue to store rainwater where it lands. The awareness raised will continue to spread and The Big Sponge education resource will continue to teach future generations about the River Parrett, flooding and what they as individuals can do to help. So what did YOU do to help?


The results:


Between 2005 and March 2006 17 schools and community groups built a wildlife pond or bog garden in their garden, school or community ground. The PCP (through JAF funding) teamed up with the Somerset Landscape Scheme to offer schools and community groups grants of up to £500 to develop a new pond or renovate an existing pond. We are grateful to the following schools and community groups for taking part in The Big Sponge:


  1. East Coker CP School

  2. Hambridge Community School

  3. Robert Blake Science School

  4. St. Josephs Primary School

  5. Stoke St. Gregory C of E

  6. Milborne Port Primary School

  7. North Cadbury Primary School

  8. Creech St. Michael Primary School

  9. West Coker

  10. Huish Primary School

  11. Hamp Community Junior

  12. Wembdon St. George

  13. Holway Park SchoolC

  14. Monkton Heathfield Secondary School

  15. Ilton Parish Council

  16. Sedgemoor Manor Junior School

  17. Otterhampton Christian Activity Centre


NB. If you would like to build a pond or wetland in your school grounds, a grant of up to £500 continues to be available through the Somerset Landscape Scheme. Contact: Phil Stone on 01823 355617 or email prstone@somerset.gov.uk for further information and an application form.


The Big Sponge encouraged people to install a water butt to capture rainfall from roof-tops. PCP teamed up with Wessex Water and the Wake Up to Waste Campaign to offer discounted water butt kits. Over 2,500 water butts were sold in Somerset through this scheme. A leaflet on 'How to manage your water butt wisely' was also produced to help people get the maximum benefit out of their waterbutt.


The Big Sponge also campaigned to raise awareness of the damage caused by homeowners laying out their front garden to concrete or non-porous paving for extra parking. PCP called on homeowners to use porous paving (there are many different products on the market now) or gravel so that rainwater can percolate through it. Numerous enquiries and letters of support for this initiative were received.