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Destruction of Alkborough Flats

The reason York and Gainsborough do not flood any more.

Published : 14 March 2021


The reason York and Gainsborough do not flood any more.

At the turn of the 21st Century, plans were made to destroy one of the best pieces of warped farmland in North Lincolnshire, by breeching the embankment and letting the River Humber flood the aforementioned farmland on Alkborough Flats. This was euphemistically called a managed realignment project, and part of the national Biodiversity Action Plan.

A considerable amount of land on the Trent and Humber flood plains, was warped between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries to increase its value and productivity. Warped land had the benefits of being level, mostly stone free, and very fertile, at least in the short term. After the enclosure at Alkborough in 1765, Alkborough Flats were warped and embanked between 1860 and 1864, and the embankments were repaired again after the great flood of 1953.

Too many words, skip to the end.


Finest piece of farmland in the area.

Finest piece of farmland in the area.

Alkborough Flats consisted of over 400 hectares of the finest agricultural land, the vast majority of which, was protected by a raised embankment to prevent flooding.

Alkborough Flats was the site of a small fort or gun emplacement during the English Civil War, it was built at a time when most transport in the area was still by boat. Originally built by the Royalists in 1642-43 to control traffic at the junction of the Rivers Trent, Ouse and Humber. It was later taken over by the the Parliamentarians of the Eastern Association.

During WWII, Alkborough Flats was used as a bombing range by bomber crews based at RAF Elsham Wolds, and practise bombs have been found there quite recently. The remains of the brick and concrete buildings, from where the score keepers kept watch, are still to be found on the high ground overlooking the Flats.

Alkborough Flats was flooded during the great storm of 1953, and the present defences were built up after that event to keep the water out; -- Fast forward forty odd years, and they can’t let the water back in fast enough!

Flats farm, a collection of brick-built buildings dating from the late 18th / early 19th century, was demolished as part of the project, a number of reclaimed bricks from the site, were used to build decorative signs in Alkborough and Walcot.


Reclaimed bricks from Alkborough Flats farm

Reclaimed bricks from Alkborough Flats farm

The rational behind the scheme was ’explained’ at a series of public meetings, where we were told that flooding the Flats would prevent flooding, both in York and in Gainsborough. The ’explainer’, went on to say how the River Humber is just not wide enough where the Humber Bridge is situated, for all the water from the Rivers Ouse and Trent to flow unimpeded out into the North Sea. He then continued down his list of benefits by stating that by creating a place to store flood waters as well as creating new habitat for wading birds that were in need of somewhere to wade, due to their previous wading grounds being built over near the oil refineries further down the Humber. He didn’t elaborate as to how they intended to stack the water up, on land, the majority of which was already 3 metres above sea level, but no doubt he could have made something up if he’d been asked.

Inundated farmland.

Inundated farmland.

TL;DR - Conclusion.

The project cost over £10 million, which included buying up the farmland from the various owners, and paying for the holes to be dug etc. The project was completed in 2005 and officially opened by Ian Pearson, Environment and Climate Change Minister in September 2006.

The long term benefits of the project have yet to be seen, and there are claims that the whole site will be silted up within the next 30 years and offer no lasting benefits at all.

Some of the photographs on this page were shamelessly stolen from And others were taken by me.

The village of Messingham, Lincolnshire Redbourne, Snitterby and Waddingham, 1872 The Lincolnshire bagpipe