Cumbrian farmers have highlighted a ‘catalogue of errors’ by the Environment Agency (EA) and Rivers Trust in their approaches to water management and flooding.
Produced by the Cumbrian River Authority Governance Group (CRAGG), an independent voice for communities in the country, their recently published report found the EA was not fit for purpose in its crucial role as the lead in addressing flood risk.
They said the EA had outsourced its responsibilities for rivers to the Rivers Trust whose focus on nature based solutions had caused, in some cases, flood risks to exacerbate, favouring habitats and water quality over best practice in water management.
It also branded EA’s community engagement as poor with ’inaccurate, late or superficial delivery’ and no ’real interest in co-production of needs assessments with communities’.
Paul Barnes, a Keswick livestock farmer who is a member of the Farmers Flood Group, set up after the devastation caused by Storm Desmond in 2015 and chairman of CRAGGS, slammed the bodies for their ‘disastrous lack of hydrological understanding of river catchments in the North West’ and its wider impact on climate change.
“We need to manage catchments in a sustainable way where knowledge and science, as opposed to agendas, becomes essential for the benefit of wildlife, biodiversity and water management,” Mr Barnes said.
“I have had wildlife drowning on my farm but nobody is taking a bit of notice."
Elizabeth Radford, Eden Rivers Trust chief executive said: "While we recognise there is considerably more to do to mitigate floods in Cumbria, we and many others see the value of nature-based flooding (NFM) solutions within the wider picture of flood management work.
"We work very closely with land managers and farmers as this is imperative in creating cost-effective sustainable solutions for communities at risk from flooding.
"Just one element of the NFM project dismissed by this report actually resulted in a threefold increase in the area available to store water."
Jodie Mills, director at West Cumbria Rivers Trust, added natural flood management can complement hard engineered flood defences by helping slow the flow and reduce peak river levels.
"We are working with numerous farmers and landowners across multiple river catchments to install hundreds of natural flood management features," Ms Mills said.
"These schemes have been well-received, with more farmers getting in touch to express interest after hearing about work done on neighbouring land.
"The views expressed by CRAGG do not reflect our conversations with farmers and landowners in West Cumbria.
“We also work very closely with community groups, who are actively involved in our project steering groups and very supportive of our work, along with partners including the Environment Agency and local and parish councils.
"Our natural flood management projects aim to help mitigate flood risk while also providing further benefits for wildlife and climate resilience.
"Natural flood management interventions are closely monitored in partnership with Lancaster University to fully understand their effectiveness and contribute to the national evidence base.”