The Environment Agency has pledged to look at ways of making it easier for farmers to maintain watercourses and flood defences on their land.
The commitment follows a heated NFU council meeting between Environment Agency officials and farm leaders at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, on Tuesday (22 January).
East Berkshire grower William Emmett said farmers in the Thames Valley were angry about a “complete lack of maintenance” of watercourses that led to waterlogged and flooded farmland.
“The River Thames has won awards in terms of its water cleanliness, but in parts it’s a national disgrace,” he said.
Overhanging trees and watercourses used to be maintained by the Environment Agency and other bodies such as Thames Water, said Mr Emmett.
“No dredging whatsoever is happening throughout the River Thames.”
East Yorkshire farmer Guy Poskitt branded Environment Agency inspectors as “namby-pamby people” who were “more interested in flood-warning systems than maintenance”.
The government agency needed to work with farmers to get waterways working better so farms did not flood continuously, he added.
“I try to work with you guys but you are not interested,” said Mr Poskitt. “Staff on the ground are so demoralised, it’s unbelievable.”
Yorkshire farmer Rosie Dunn said the East Riding area had suffered significant flooding over the past few years.
“Extreme weather is becoming the norm,” she said.
“It is no longer an event that happens once every 100 years as the Environment Agency is suggesting – flash-flooding is happening all the time.”
Wiltshire livestock farmer Minette Batters said flooding was now a “worse problem than bovine TB”.
“You know how big a problem bovine TB is for us and I put it to you that flooding is an even greater problem,” she said.
“I have seen grown men in tears at 16th-century water meadows, SSSIs, and valued wetland sites absolutely desecrated.”
Environment Agency chief executive Paul Leinster told the council meeting he recognised farmers’ “emotion, frustration and anger” over the issue of flooding.
The agency would look at ways of reducing red tape and bureaucracy so farmers could maintain watercourses on their land, he pledged.
“In places where we have piloted this, we have got to a much better position to where we were before but I can see clearly from this room we need to do it on a much wider scale.”
Earlier, Environment Agency flood management director David Rooke said that the agency spent £20m spent each year on channel maintenance.
But the consensus among farmers at the meeting was that the agency should either spend more money or let farmers do the job themselves.