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Flooding 3: Response to floods: Oxford Case Study

flood water spreading from river to houses

Suitable for GCSE

The Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is designed to reduce the impacts of a major flood in Oxford by diverting water down Hinksey Stream, which is a branch of the River Thames that flows between Botley and Kennington. Land use zoning means that much of the floodplain of Hinksey Stream is undeveloped. However, road, rail and energy infrastructure, as well as a number of homes are at risk on the margins of the floodplain.

This scheme uses a combination of hard and soft engineering strategies. Hard engineering, such as deepening the river channel and the replacement of culverts under roads, will ensure that the new channel has a greater capacity. Soft engineering (landscaping the floodplain and planting trees), will increase the flood storage capacity of the floodplain. At the same time, the network of footpaths and cycle paths along the floodplain will be improved, enhancing the environmental value of this commuter and leisure corridor through the urban landscape.

Specification requirements

Understanding flood management strategies including the role of flood plain zoning, flood relief channels and flood plain retention are requirements of all GCSE specifications. An understanding of urban land uses and the dilemmas of urban development is required by some. Download the Specification audit.

Learning objectives

These activities can be used to develop an enquiry into the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme. This resource can be used to meet one or more of the following objectives:

  • develop the skills required to conduct an enquiry – from setting an aim, sampling, collecting and analysing evidence to evaluating the quality of the data
  • develop skills of extended writing as they evaluate the flood management scheme
  • create a case study of the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme.

Download the Assessment Objectives.


Students should begin by reading the brief document published by Oxfordshire County Council which describes the scheme and outlines its potential benefits. The document includes a sketch map of the scheme but students should also become familiar with the location of the scheme and the area it is designed to protect. They should, therefore, study an OS map of the area – one is available on the Bing map here.

Students can then investigate the area that will be protected by the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme in a virtual field trip – the student resource Virtual fieldtrip. This investigation uses the same six steps that would be used in a real fieldwork enquiry and could be used to reinforce understanding of this process. However, it cannot be used as a substitute for one of the actual fieldwork enquiries conducted by your centre. The enquiry will help students explore the concept of risk and flood plain zoning and help to answer the following questions:

  • What kinds of land uses are at risk of flooding in Oxford?
  • Which land uses will be protected by the new flood alleviation scheme?

At this point students might want to watch the two videos about the scheme that have been created by the Environment Agency. The first video provides an outline of the scheme. The second video simulates a fly-through over the area affected by the scheme.

To conclude, students should be encouraged to use all of the evidence they have seen to create an evaluation of the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme. To do this, students might also want to consider these enquiry questions:

  • Who will benefit?
  • How might the scheme affect the economy of Oxford?
  • What are the potential benefits for the environment?
  • Does the scheme make Oxford a more sustainable city?

The Environment Agency publishes up to date information about the flood scheme here. If students read this after they have completed the other activities then they can use it to assess the effectiveness of their own evaluation:

  • What did I learn from the Environment Agency evaluation?
  • What did I get right in my own evaluation?
  • What did I miss?
  • How was the Environment Agency evaluation structured?
  • Could I improve the way that I write an evaluation next time?



Other lessons in this series:

Flood risk and flood management: Introduction
Flooding 1: Causes of river floods
Flooding 2: Investigating the effects of river floods
Flooding 4: Managing the upper drainage basin
Flooding 5: Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS)
Flooding 6: Managing river floods – exploring the role of the Environment Agency
Flooding 7: Coastal flooding at Chiswell
Flooding 8: Managed realignment
Flooding 9: The role of the Environment Agency in coastal management and the development of shoreline management plans

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