Rivers being dredging© David Parker/Associated Newspapers/REX/Shutterstock

Dredging rivers remains an important way of reducing flood risk to farmland – but is not always appropriate or effective, says the Environment Agency (EA).

Agency chief executive James Bevan issued the warning in a speech to the Association of Drainage Authorities (ADA) annual conference on Thursday (17 November).

“I am in favour of dredging – I am in favour of doing it where it makes a difference to flood-risk and where it is value for money,” said Sir James.

See also: Farmers fear repeat of Somerset floods

“Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.”

Delegates at the conference included farmers, local authorities, internal drainage board representatives and other stakeholders with an interest in flood management.

Sir James said he wanted to reassure his audience dredging would remain an important part of the agency’s river maintenance programme.

Last year, the agency spent £22m on dredging up and down the country, he said.

“We will make decisions about when and where to do it on a case by case basis and we will do it working with you and where it will make a big difference.”

Lack of dredging was widely blamed by farmers for exacerbating the impact of the Somerset floods during the winter of 2013-14.

The EA subsequently committed to dredging the River Parrett.

Tony Bradford, of the Parrett Internal Drainage Board, told the ADA conference it was important rivers were kept well maintained.

Rather than a lack of dredging, climate change was a major cause of flooding, said Sir James.

“Dredging, building walls – none of these things are 100% guaranteed [to work] against flooding.”

He added: “We can reduce flood risk, including by maintaining rivers properly, but we can never eliminate it.”