Farmers should be encouraged to do more to contain flood waters as part of a post-Brexit agricultural policy, says lobby group, the Green Alliance (GA).
According to a report, “millions of pounds in agricultural subsidy is being spent in ways that may actually increase vulnerability to flooding”.
In particular, it points to the £1.5bn spent on direct payments to English farmers under the CAP, “that ignores or even increases flood risk”.
This compares with just £393m spent on agri-environment schemes “which are generally likely to have a positive impact in helping to prevent flooding”.
The GA is therefore calling for a post-Brexit policy that rewards farmers for adopting natural flood-management methods, such as tree planting, reinstating water meadows and river meanders, and creating bunds.
The report has been welcomed by the National Trust, which agreed public money should be used to help farmers deliver these public benefits.
“It should also be possible to set up a market for services from farming that today go unrewarded, reducing flood risks, improving water quality and boosting biodiversity,” said rural enterprise director, Patrick Begg.
But the NFU has questioned some of the report’s findings, including the sums of money quoted.
“The £1.5bn spent on farm support may not be targeted directly at flood relief, but it does fulfil some very important other aims, such as producing food and increasing self-sufficiency,” said environmental spokesman Martin Rogers.
“Also, the report does not mention the £3bn the Environment Agency has pledged for capital works to 2020, or the £1bn for maintenance work.”
Natural flood management on farmland could make a contribution, Mr Rogers added, “but it’s not a panacea”.
There was also an issue with new housing developments in the countryside which could exacerbate the problem of floodwater damaging agricultural land.
Part of solution
Country Land and Business Association policy director Christopher Price said rural landowners and farmers wanted to be part of the solution for flood-risk management.
“We fully support incorporating natural flood management into the new domestic food, farming and environmental policy.”
However, payments needed to be more than just “one-offs” and should provide a flow of income over time, he said.