Bretherton school soaks up the recent rainfall to support region’s water resources and get their garden growing

15 Nov 2022

Rain gardens, water walls, planters and water butts are amongst the sustainable drainage measures being introduced at schools across the North West to help their local environment.

There may have been a heatwave this summer but the North West is generally one of the wettest regions in the country and the wetter weather which increases the chance of flooding has returned.

Bretherton Combined Church of England School near Leyland is one of 10 schools to benefit from United Utilities’ £1m Sustainable Drainage for Schools programme which has seen a range of measures introduced to divert rainfall away from entering the sewer system by soaking it up for use in gardens, planters and ponds.

SuDS for schools Bretherton.JPEGClimate change and urban growth means that sewers and drains can become overloaded during times of heavy rainfall. Sustainable Drainage Systems, or SuDS, manage rain at the point it hits the surface by providing an alternative to directly channelling surface water through sewers or to nearby watercourses.

This relieves pressure on the sewer network and can play a significant role in helping to reduce the need for releases from storm overflows during times of heavy rainfall.

The SUDS for Schools programme is working towards United Utilities’ Better Rivers; Better North West action plan which aims to improve the health of the region’s rivers. The company has committed to reduce the operation of storm overflows from sewers by 30% by 2025, and improve 184km of waterways.

United Utilities funded the award-winning project with support from the Department for Education. It was delivered in partnership with the scheme designer Atkins Ltd and contractor Horticon Ltd.

As well as reducing flooding or pollution risks by creating more space in sewers, creating SuDS brings other benefits.  Johnny Phillips Surface Water Strategy Manager at United Utilities explained: “By creating ponds and rain garden areas, or collecting rain in water butts and rainwater planters, SuDS bring added benefits by creating habitats for plants and wildlife in the same way as natural wetlands.

“Rainwater is a resource which all too often just runs down the drain where it enters the sewer system for treatment that it doesn’t need. Or worse than that, it sometimes overloads the sewer system and causes it to overflow into a watercourse. SuDS help make the most of the rain, which we generally have a lot of in the North West, by creatively managing it on the surface where it can be used to nourish natural habitats which also benefit wildlife.

“These measures also filter the surface water naturally so if it does enter a watercourse it is less polluted, and if it eventually enters the sewer network it will be after some time so there isn’t the sudden surge which can overload the system.”

At Bretherton School, the sustainable drainage levels have been increased by 30% - equivalent to 32 bathtubs full of water - through the introduction of four rain garden areas that are planted up with water-friendly plants, four planters and a water butt. A water wall and outdoor gazebo have also been introduced.

Alison Moxham, Head teacher at Bretherton School said: 'We feel incredibly lucky to have been involved in the SUDS project. We were fully involved in the planning, designing and completion of the project and we are delighted with the result.

“We now have a number of raised planters and areas around the school grounds have been re-landscaped with rain-loving plants.  

“It feels great that we are helping sustainable drainage levels while taking the opportunity to teach children about the different purposes of plants and aspects of sustainability.”

The schemes for each school were designed by Atkins; Josh Rutherford, Lead Design Engineer at Atkins said: “It’s been a pleasure working on the design of these schemes. There has been a fantastic opportunity to champion the better use of rain - an ever more important resource.

“We have drawn inspiration for many of the designs from the natural environment while also making features colourful and engaging. SuDS are a fantastic way to incorporate a multitude of benefits into school spaces through increased biodiversity, water quality and carbon sequestration whilst reducing key issues like flood risk and strain on the sewer network. 

“There has been a real opportunity to showcase the runoff, rather than hide it below ground in pipes, and we have managed to reach out to so many pupils with these schemes. We’ve shone a new light on how sites like this could be drained with engaging and fun uses of SuDS on the site.”

The project was highly commended in the National SusDrain SuDS awards.