By Marie-Claire Kidd
Farmers have blamed the Environment Agency (EA) after floods hit more than 283 hectares (700 acres) of west Lancashire pasture.
Heavy rain overwhelmed the drainage system between Garstang and Cockerham for the second time in 10 months at the end of August, waterlogging at least seven farms.
The area is served by a network of high-capacity ditches which drain into the river Cocker and out to the Irish Sea.
But local farmers have said new floodgates, installed by the EA at the Cocker estuary, are not fit for purpose and are causing water to back up after heavy rain.
The flooding was worse during Storm Desmond in December last year, when 404ha (1,000 acres) were flooded. The affected farmers received Flood Recovery Fund grants to reseed their land and were in recovery until the problem struck again in late August, ruining silage crops.
Ted Mitchell, one of the affected dairy farmers, said: “The farmers used to look after the drainage, but the EA decided it would do it. Why did it not just leave things alone?
“The gates are the biggest problem. The EA has spent millions on them and they are not working properly. They are too heavy as there is too much steel in them.”
The automatic gates are designed to be opened and shut by the tide. But farmers said they get silted up and are blocked by debris on the seaward side.
The EA has also stopped maintaining field ditches, passing this responsibility to farmers. However, farmers said they have struggled to get permits to do the necessary works.
An EA spokesman said: "The Environment Agency prioritises investment where there is greatest risk to people and property. In areas where our maintenance investment is changing we work with the local community to explain the changes and the options available to them.
"Environment Agency representatives have met with the community and farmers in Cockerham and Winmarleigh to explain the changes to our maintenance programme and have provided advice and guidance on the options available to them for undertaking maintenance. Meetings have been well attended by MPs, Parish Councillors, farmers, the NFU and CLA and Natural England and we have supported the community to undertake recent dredging works.
"Following feedback from the farming community about the tidal doors we have completed a review and installed equipment both upstream and downstream to monitor water levels so we understand how the gates are functioning and under what conditions. Once we have this data we will consider what action we might take and what the community might consider."