Industry must unite on flood protection
- Published on Wednesday, 23 January 2013 11:23
- Posted by Vicki Mitchem
The NFU has called for a more effective partnership between farmers, government and the Environment Agency to help protect high value agricultural land from flooding.
Farmers reacted strongly when Environment Agency director of flood and coastal defences David Rooke addressed NFU Council today. They said they are being prevented from undertaking voluntary maintenance of watercourses - to help protect habitats or biodiversity - and agricultural land is being left to flood.
Despite an additional £120m capital spend for flood defences announced after the record-breaking wet summer, farmers believe that long-standing real spending budget cuts have seen river maintenance reach an all-time low, with catastrophic impacts.
NFU Deputy President Meurig Raymond said it was critical the Environment Agency and Defra increase funding for maintenance budgets. He added that Defra policy must re-balance the weighting for flood defence spending to give greater consideration to high value farmland.
"We've heard today how farmers are still battling the impacts of wet land. Whether that's not being able to harvest crops or vegetables or autumn plantings being drowned, there are huge concerns out there," said Mr Raymond.
"And while the capital budget has been given an additional £120m, in the main for defence projects, we have heard today that the Environment Agency is expected to have £49m less over the next few years to spend on essential things such as maintenance. This is nonsense and has to be reversed.
"Farmers are saying quite clearly that they are prepared to look after rivers and undertake additional drainage on their farm but they are prevented by additional regulations aimed at protecting habitats. Surely we can do both?
"I have heard a welcome offer to work in partnership with the Environment Agency today. This we accept unequivocally, but it must be more than words - we need an honest dialogue and long-term commitment to think and act differently.
"New thinking should include guidelines that make it easier - not more difficult - for farmers to undertake their own maintenance. New partnership approaches between the agency and farmers in some areas and new Independent Drainage Broads would help. We also need to ensure that productive agricultural land is properly valued in terms of long-term value to society, and that its benefits are fairly reflected in any flood management assessment.
"Today we are at the beginning of a dialogue with the agency that should lead to a better environment and more productive farmland. For its part the NFU will continue to lobby ministers in the strongest terms on the urgent need to reverse the decline in spending for essential river maintenance."