05 August 1998
Abandon land to the sea, say MPs

By FWi staff

LOW-LYING farmland in East Anglia and southern England should be abandoned to sea because flood defences are a waste of taxpayers money, say MPs.

The Agriculture Select Committee called for “an end to the centuries-old war with the sea … and a peaceful accommodation with our former enemy”. The report added that Britain grows too much food anyway, and can afford to lose these areas to flooding.

The committee said a planned policy of “managed realignment” of the coastline is preferable to suffering “the consequences of a deluded belief that we can maintain indefinitely an unbreachable Maginot Line of towering sea walls and flood defences”.

The MPs argue that current coastal defence policy cannot be sustained in the long term if it continues to be based on the practice of man intervening to stop the natural process of flooding and erosion.

Instead, communities in those regions should be “making room for the sea at the coast and for rivers in flood plains”.

On a slightly brighter note, the committee did recommend that “suitable compensation arrangements” should be made to those farmers who lose out. The report did not estimate how much land would be lost but said it did not amount to “thousands of hectares”.

The report also said London and other major cities could possibly be under water within 200-300 years as sea levels rise because of global warming.

The Wildlife Trusts, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the UK branch of the Worldwide Fund for Nature have all welcomed the report – saying the restoration of original floodplains would bring back rare wildlife.

But the National Farmers Union blasted the report saying it was deeply concerned that farmers would be left to the mercy of the sea.

An NFU spokeswoman said: “We believe this report seriously over-simplifies the issue. We believe a full assessment of the costs and benefits should be made before the Government makes such a dramatic change in policy.”

She said the areas which would be left to flooding are mainly used for the production of fruit and vegetables. Which means they are not “surplus” crops and they dont fall under any CAP support schemes.

“A lot of industries in those regions are supported by the fruit and vegetable sector including processors, packing houses and transport companies,” she said.