New water management for the Republic of Korea

The first blog of 2019 comes from SGIF member, and previous Chair, Dr Brian D'Arcy. Brian focuses on his recent trips to South Korea and the inspirational water management projects being undertaken there.


South Korea is justly world renowned as a ‘can-do country’ – or ‘can do and does’!  The Cheongecheon Stream restoration project deserves praise for turning around an impoverished district of Seoul, and creating a thriving district where waterside strolls are a feature of everyday lunch breaks, cool evenings, and early morning too.  As a social improvement it has been an undoubted success. One of the most amazing aspects of the Korean achievement is that the project featured in the election campaign for the new Mayor of Seoul; pledging to spend millions of dollars on an environmental improvement proved to be a vote winner and he won.

As an example of real, ecological, river restoration, it is somewhat flawed however.   Although the old stream culvert was replaced with an open channel, there was no attempt to drain its catchment to the watercourse.  Awareness of diffuse pollution risks for the small stream (the consulting engineer involved was subsequently a chair of the IWA Diffuse Pollution Specialist Group) was the reason why surface runoff from the surrounding area was drained into new twin surface water sewers, one either side of the stream channel.   Prof Sung-Ryung Ha explained to me back in 2009 that they had no space for surface water treatment facilities such as raingardens, so rather than risk creating an open channel stream polluted with oily runoff and sediment, perhaps sewage wrong connections too, the engineers decided to supply clean water by pumping from the Han River, to guarantee their expensive new amenity feature in the heart of the city centre would look attractive at all times.  [Something very similar was done at the Edinburgh Business park, but that also involved putting a hitherto open stream into a new culvert…]. More than a dozen fish species have nonetheless colonised the Cheogecheon and a more relaxed approach to colonisation by aquatic and waterside plants is enhancing wildlife interest there.

The Mayor subsequently became head of the South Korean Government and embarked on a far more ambitious project:  the Four Rivers Restoration Project.  That was even more narrowly engineering-focused and drew a lot of criticism.  The growing ecological movement in South Korea supported others in advocating a more joined up approach to managing the water environment in South Korea.

The Korean Government held a series of consultation meetings and workshops in response to that and other pressures, and I was happy to be invited to participate in their 6th and final one in September 2017, when they sought international perspectives.   At the time, responsibility for water management was divided between two ministries: water quality management by the Ministry of Environment, and water quantity management by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. 

The outcome has been to make 3 key changes to the environmental legislation in South Korea[1]:

  1. The Government Organisation Act

This Act was revised and enacted on June 8th 2018, transferring Ministerial affairs on managing water quantity from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and transport (MOLIT) to the Ministry of Environment (MOE).

  1. The Framework Act on Water Management

This new framework Act establishes a master plan for national water management and for South Korea’s four major river basins, based on the concept of integrated water management.  It will be enacted in June 2019, establishing the national water management committee and basin committees, to promote sustainable and integrated water management.  The basin committees will provide a forum for concerns and dialogue.

  1. The Water Management Technology and Industry Act

Also a new Act, this legislation will be enacted in December 2018; it contributes to enhancing quality of life through the development of water management technology and promoting the water industry.

In the years since Cheongecheon, there has been additional encouragement of informal recreation in South Korea.  Other small tributaries are now also seen as attractive assets for informal recreation with streamside walkways, stepping stone crossings as well as footbridges, and seats and viewpoints.

These green corridors are now valued parts of the much-valued green infrastructure of the city, which includes stands of native pines and other trees, green walls and an impressive indoor green wall at the city hall.  Seoul also has a national park at the boundary of the city:  Bukhansan National Park, the most visited of the national parks in Korea.

Brian J. D’Arcy

Independent environmental consultant This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 [1] New water management for the Republic of Korea, leaflet from the Ministry of Environment.


[Lest anyone in Scotland should be shaking their heads at the Cheongecheon development, it’s worth noting that the Edinburgh Business Park created a shorter but basically similar amenity feature, building a nice open watercourse with footpaths and seats, attractive waterside planting– but the city and developers put the local stream which was there prior to the development plans, into a new culvert!  The new Edinburgh ‘watercourse’ is fed by drinking water, with stormwater drained to the culverted burn… shocking but true].

Scotland’s first raingarden officer appointed!

Scotland now has its first raingarden officer thanks to an innovative project from Central Scotland Green Network Trust and the Scottish Green Infrastructure Forum.

Europe’s largest greenspace initiative is hoping to follow successful projects in Melbourne, Philadelphia and Portland where raingardens have played an important role in dealing with surface water management, flood alleviation and greenspace creation. Funding has been secured from the Green Infrastructure Community Engagement Fund from SNH, the Peoples Postcode Lottery, Glasgow City Council and CSGNT.

Landscape architect, Rachel Howlett has taken up the new position and will be focusing on creating 10,000 raingardens for Scotland as part of the organisation’s focus on creating an environment that will support Central Scotland to thrive in a changing climate.

Rachel explained: “Scotland is known as a ‘wet country’ and raingardens can play an important role by using, storing or temporarily holding  rain water. This presents a fantastic opportunity to help reduce the impact of flooding whilst also contributing to improved biodiversity, pollution control and better greenspaces, and we have set the goal of creating 10,000 raingardens across l Scotland. ”

A Glasgow pilot project is now in place as the first phase of the national campaign to raise awareness and will focus on community and public engagement, developing raingarden plans and designs, and disseminating and promoting guidance on creating small scale raingardens.

The initiative will work with the Southside Housing Association and the community in Queensland Court and Gardens in North Cardonald, to produce bespoke, costed, raingarden designs. Queensland Gardens are two tower blocks owned by Southside Housing Association which are surrounded by short, regularly mown grassland, however there is currently no nature-based surface water management taking place.

Rachel, explained the plans for the area; commenting, she said: “Queensland Gardens presents an ideal opportunity to be innovative by creating multifunctional quality greenspaces which deal with pollution, water and biodiversity deficits. It is also important to use this initiative to provide play and education opportunities which can also contribute to a sense of mental wellbeing, pride and community empowerment.”

The 10,000 raingardens initiative is also focusing on raising awareness of the benefits of raingardens to encourage individuals, businesses and communities to create the systems in their gardens, community spaces and buildings.


For further information please visit and tell us about any raingardens here.

As Europe’s largest greenspace initiative, CSGN is working to transform the central belt into a place where the environment adds value to the economy and where people’s lives are enriched by its quality.  Stretching from Ayrshire, Inverclyde and Dunbartonshire in the west, to Fife and Lothians in the east, it encompasses 19 local authorities across 10,000 sq km and has the potential to benefit 3.5 million people, equating to 70 per cent of Scotland’s population.

Carrongrange High School Green Roof

Green roofs, when designed well, provide homes for a range of wildlife, especially pollinating insects, and can be used and enjoyed by people to.  A green roof installed at Carrongrange High School in Grangemouth is doing just that!

The 300m2 roof garden, installed in 2017, was planted with a range of plants, including Chive, Heathers, Sedums, Lambs ear and a wildflower mat which included a diverse mix of native species. The garden was designed to allow access for pupils and teachers along the entire length of the roof and a cobbled path that goes from one end to another is wide enough to allow access for wheel chairs.

In May 2018, Buglife along with staff from the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative ran three workshops with the schools gardening club. Each workshop invited pupils onto the roof garden to show them the different plants on the roof and the wildlife feeding on them. These workshops also provided opportunities for the pupils to learn how to maintain the garden and what plants to weed and remove.


During the workshops, pupils enjoyed seeing Small copper butterflies, all stages of Seven spot ladybird, Red tailed bumblebees and the leafhopper Cicadella viridis. Not only does this roof provide outdoor space for pupils to use for learning but it provides space for them to sit and relax. Teachers have also enjoyed the use of the garden in lunchtimes and when using it with pupils.

Since the workshops, Buglife have returned to the roof to weed it before the new term started in August 2018. We added in some new herbs, including Thyme, Rosemary, Lavender and Marjoram, that will be great for pollinators but also nice for pupils to touch and smell.

Glorious Green Roofs is an Inner Forth Landscape Initiative project funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and the contribution of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Community delivered as part of the EcoCo LIFE project:

The roof was installed by ICB (Projects) Ltd. And has won an award for best Green Roof Installation at the NFRC Scottish Roofing Contractor of the Year Awards 2017.

Tackling the barriers that keep nature off the cities

Novembers blog features the Urban GreenUP project, an EU Horizon 2020 with the objective of developing, trialing and replicating "Renaturing Urban Plans" in a number of European and non-European partner cities with the aim to mitigate the effects of climate change, improve air quality and water management, as well as to increase the sustainability of our cities through innovative nature-based solutions. This month, the project launched the results of their analysis on obstacles hampering the implementation of Nature-Based Solutions and possible related countermeasures:

Making our cities more sustainable and less harmful for the environment is one of humanity’s top priorities. Different approaches in this direction can be adopted. So far, renaturing urban plans by making use of Nature-Based solutions (NBS) are among the most effective ones. However, different kinds of barriers may stand in their way or slow them down. To top it all off, these hindrances are often times interlinked to one another which therefore makes it impossible for radical changes such as NBS to take place. To address this issue, the EU-funded URBAN GreenUP project has prepared a document identifying the main classes of barriers faced by its fellow cities. It also provides indicators on how to overcome such barriers, along with a collection of success and failure stories.

The document outlines different kinds of barriers. Some of these obstacles are purely technical and related to the NBS design and installation while others are of political, legislative, financial and social concerns, which may jeopardize altogether the implementation of these NBS.

In the realm of politics, one of the toughest barriers is the conflict and mismatch of priorities between local and the national governments. These include budget restrictions and cuts, as well as bureaucratic red tapes like land ownership.

Further complications arise by adding legislation into the picture. For one, legislative approval is required every time important changes such as NBS implementation is to take place in a city. This will become more troublesome if we also account for NBS’s unconventional designs that may violate the local legislative measures or protocols, and if these interventions should be implemented on private property.

Looking at it from a financial perspective, the biggest concern that the population may have is where the funding needed to implement NBS should come from. As a matter of fact, NBS most often fail to offer tangible cash return in the short term. This makes it less attractive for future investors.

Last but not the least, social barriers may arise as NBS impose a change of scenery and habits for the locals. For one, people have low public awareness as to how environmental protection can be beneficial to them. As a consequence, nature based interventions are considered among the citizens’ lowest priorities thus giving them a weak stance as to whether they should be supported.

The document is publicly available on the URBAN GreenUP website and is meant to provide guidelines and recommendations to cities and organisations implementing NBS.

Water Voles in the City

The Greater Easterhouse Green Infrastructure (GI) project focuses on redeveloping 3 parks in the east end of Glasgow. At the heart of the project is the creation of new surface water management features, including daylighted water courses, swales and detention basins, linked to wider improvements to access, landscape and habitats. This in turn enables development of adjacent vacant and derelict land by reducing pressure in existing drainage networks.

An additional feature of the project is the presence of water voles at all 3 parks. In 2008 biodiversity officers were first alerted to water voles living in rough grasslands along the M8 in Easterhouse. Surveys carried out in partnership with the University of Glasgow revealed a nationally significant population of water voles in parks and greenspaces where grass had been left to grow long – including sites over 1km away from the nearest water course.

Water voles have declined by over 80% across the UK in recent years, so it was a huge surprise to find such a large population thriving in a dense urban areas. Water vole burrows are protected by law – and it is a criminal offence to disturb them without a licence from SNH. For the Greater Easterhouse GI project this has meant trapping and relocating animals from the areas to be re-landscaped – and creating new, permanent grassland and wetland habitat. The challenge now is to ensure ongoing conservation management of this unique grassland population in an area earmarked for significant development and regeneration.

Water vole burrow at Cranhill Park. Scott Ferguson