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FEATURES | ada gazette SPRING 2014

Floods, farming and 'crass simplifi cation' IAN MOODIE, FLOOD MANAGEMENT & ACCESS ADVISER, NFU


• 48 SSSIs have been destroyed by the December tidal surges in the east coast of England. One of the greatest concerns is for the future of rare freshwater habitats close to the coast. Multiple breaches in the sea defences allowed saltwater to pour through, swamping ecosystems that rely on freshwater. Natural England is concerned with the long-term rise in salinity of the coastal habitats.

There has been much debate recently about the role of farming in preventing fl ooding following the extensive, catastrophic fl oods across the Somerset Levels. Several commentators have suggested that att enuating or ‘slowing the fl ow’ of water upstream could prevent the fl ooding we have seen. This is a crass over-simplifi cation of the situation. Slowing the fl ow, encouraging water

to infi ltrate into the land can have a role in helping reduce fl ooding, but without works like dredging downstream to maintain the capacity and conveyance of our lowland rivers, we are just pouring water into a bath with the plughole blocked. This is especially the case on the Somerset

Levels and Moors where years of neglect to maintain the Rivers Parrett and Tone by the

Somerset Floods (nicksarebi)

misery. Therefore, such techniques must not be seen as a panacea, and should not be expected to signifi cantly reduce fl ooding in more extensive lowland fl oodplains. For this reason the NFU opposes the

suggestion of a requirement for farmers to have to capture water on their land in order to access grants from the EU. Instead agri- environment options, funding and targeted guidance that facilitated farmers to use natural processes to help control fl ows in, over and around farms would be welcome. Catchment Sensitive Farming is just one

example of how that is being implemented currently. However, this needs to be coupled with support for good management practices in lowlands to remove silt and debris and manage vegetation that constrains the fl ow and capacity of our watercourses. Here, it is hoped that the River Maintenance Pilots can identify good practice and point toward smarter and bett er regulations that facilitate farmers doing maintenance in an environmentally sensitive manner. Ultimately, what is

needed is a balanced approach, improving soil infi ltration and att enuating fl ows where appropriate upstream,

but enhancing capacity

Environment Agency have resulted in rivers with less than two thirds of their intended capacity to convey water. Prolonged and persistent rainfall has resulted in 11,500 ha now lying under 65 million cubic metres of water. To expect farmland in upland areas to att enuate such large volumes of water is simply unrealistic. This is not to say that such techniques to

capture and hold more water on farmland, slowing the fl ow downstream, should not have an important role to play in reducing fl ooding in smaller catchments and upland areas, especially if coupled with properly managed watercourses downstream. However, tree planting and att enuation

needs to be carefully implemented so as to avoid creating permanently wett ed areas, which can increase run-off downstream, or too much woody material, which can be dislodged by fl ood water and trapped downstream under bridges and other obstructions causing greater


and conveyance in our lowland watercourses. We've got to start investing in lowland areas like the Somerset Levels and look again at how the Government prioritises where it invests money in fl ood risk management. Perhaps most crucially of all we need

to reverse the chronic underinvestment in maintenance being repeated across the country as cut backs to the Environment Agency’s revenue budget have disproportionately resulted in less funding for dredging, vegetation management and fi xing existing defence structures, whilst fl ood warnings, monitoring and capital fl ood defence schemes have been protected. This needs to be rebalanced, to recognise

the important role of our rivers in conveying water. Government funding for the maintenance of our rivers and existing fl ood defences needs to be transparent and ring- fenced from other investments so that it is clear just how much or litt le is being invested.

• Ancient woodland loss "not accounted for." The scale of ancient woodland being lost to development in Britain is being made worse because of a lack of accurate data.The Woodland Trust says that systems are so poor, the government cannot say how much ancient forest has disappeared in the last 10 years. -26340039.

• Badger cull cost tax payers over £4,000 per badger. Last year's badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset have cost more than £7m in total – the equivalent of over £4,000 per badger killed, according to Care for the Wild charity. Despite extensions, both culls fell well short of their initial targets, in what some experts and organisations are labelling the "most disastrous and expensive wildlife culls in history". And according to studies more than 5% of badgers culled took longer than fi ve minutes to die, failing the test for humaneness.

• Concerns over Owen Paterson’s comments regarding Biodiversity Offsetting. He has recently stated an interest in this scheme, claiming that planting 100 fl edgling trees in a different location would be suffi cient in replacing a felled ancient trees in ancient woodland. Fears have grown that the Environment Secretary is trading in Britain’s natural heritage for construction jobs and further green belt development.

• Defra announces Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) settlement.Farming, wildlife, rural businesses and the wider economy in England are set to benefi t from £15 billion from the next CAP. Of this over £3 billion will be spent on improving the environment. Owen Paterson has announced that the amount of funding transferred from farmers’ direct payments to the budget for environmental and rural growth schemes will be increased from 9% to 12%. implementation-of-cap-announced.

• Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) grant scheme opened 1st February 2014. The CSF Capital Grant Scheme supports farmers to undertake practical works that will help improve water quality and reduce pollution from agricultural activity within the CSF project's 77 catchment areas. A total of £7.5 million is available from the grant fund to support projects that meet the scheme’s criteria. The deadline for completed applications to be returned is 31 March 2014. www.naturalengland.

Phil Brewin

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