Lancashire dairy farmer Jimmy Hull reckons he has lost 600 litres of milk a day since he was forced to house 360 head of stock following severe flooding of summer pastures on the family’s Gibstick Farm, Winmarleigh, Garstang.

Mr Hull and sons Andrew and Lesley notched up 10 days of winter housing costs coupled with falling production because flooded fields have driven their cattle indoors.

But despite the heavy rain of recent weeks Mr Hull said the crisis could have been avoided if the Environment Agency had not switched its priorities from drainage-dyke maintenance to environmental works.

Gibstick Farm, which is situated on the low-lying Fylde plain, has always relied on an extensive system of wide dykes to ensure adequate drainage and avoid flooding.

“The Environment Agency used to maintain the dykes and keep them weed free – both on the banks and in the dykes themselves. But the level of maintenance work has declined,” said Mr Hull.

Although the Hull family have equipment that would partially free the dykes of weed and enable drains to be effective, the agency would not give them permission to undertake the work themselves.

“The dykes are normally cleaned in July and August but they weren’t done last year. Even if we don’t have any rain for a fortnight, which is unlikely, it will take at least two weeks for the pastures to dry out enough to be grazed.”

Deryck Major, Environment Agency operations delivery manager, said: “In line with national guidance, the Environment Agency has reprioritised its work to manage flood risk to protect those priority areas with high risk to the urban environment and population.”