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Farmers' hands must not be tied in flood defence battle

Stormy weather which brought flooding to pockets of the country has prompted industry calls for additional flood defence measures to help agriculture become more resilient.


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Farms in the north-west have been hit by flooding in the past week
Farms in the north-west have been hit by flooding in the past week

Sector chiefs said the recent bad weather, which saw a month’s rainfall in 24 hours in north west Wales and parts of north west England, laid bare the need for increased Government spending to protect rural areas.

 

As the Chancellor prepares to give his combined Autumn Statement and Comprehensive Spending Review next week, the industry warned further cuts to Defra and the Environment Agency’s (EA) budget could have serious repercussions for UK food production.

 

Defra has already been asked to make savings of £83 million this year and is facing further far-reaching cuts over the next four years.

 

NFU flood management and access adviser Matt Jeffes said: “We need to safeguard food production through robust flood policies.

 

“Farmers manage 71 per cent of the country’s landscape and know the land better than many. They need to be engaged to help direct maintenance to where it is needed and keep the river systems flowing.”

 

The union and the CLA have been campaigning for landowners to be able to undertake a wider range of maintenance activities, especially where the EA or internal drainage boards are no longer able to.

 

CLA president Ross Murray said recent flooding demonstrated its ‘devastating impact’ on rural communities and added investment in flood prevention was preferable to spending on clean up.

 

“Landowners remain at the forefront of protecting land and local communities from flooding,” said Mr Murray.

 

“This is why the CLA has been calling on Government to extend current tax relief proposals and ensure a sympathetic planning system is in place for the construction of flood defences and on-farm reservoirs.

 

“This would be a low-cost way to enable more landowners to increase flood defence work for significant public benefit, reducing the impact of flooding on both the rural economy and our food security.”

 

Somerset beef and sheep farmer James Small, who experienced the catastrophic impact of flooding in 2013/14, claimed the EA had effectively ‘wasted’ hundreds of thousands of pounds on Government bureaucracy.

 

He said: “Time and money is wasted on consultations and needless paperwork when, in our area, it needs to be spent on dredging.”

 

Mr Small highlighted EA work on the Somerset Levels, where silt dredged from the river was being taken off-site and ‘handled three or four times’ before being levelled.

 

“A lot of farmers have said we will take the silt to spread after harvest, but we are not allowed to have it,” he added.

 

Defra Secretary Liz Truss said she would like to see certain policies and activities devolved to the local level, such as internal drainage boards carrying out flood management work.

 

She said the Government also intended to roll out a recently-piloted policy of allowing farmers and landowners to carry out water maintenance, without having to go through the EA.

 

A Defra spokesman said: "We are committed to supporting our hard working farmers.

 

“We recently consulted on the new flood defence consents scheme that will make it easier for landowners, farmers and local authorities to build and maintain flood defences.

 

“We will shortly be making an announcement on this scheme.”


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