Farmer-driven scheme protects land from floods

A farmer-driven drainage scheme supported by about 100 farmers in the North West will save 2,833ha of some of the region’s most productive grassland from the risk of “turning into a swamp”.

Severe flooding in this low-lying land in the Lyth Valley in the southern Lake District would have had catastrophic consequences for the valley’s farmers if proposed plans by the Environment Agency to switch off water pumps last year had gone ahead.

But after several years of determined effort – and during a time when the flooding of farmland has become a major national problem – Lyth Valley farmers, who rely on the pumping system, now believe a new scheme will ensure their land is protected.

Local farmer Jim Bland of Ninezergh Farm, Heversham, has been the driving force in getting a reinstatement of a plan that would operate along similar lines to the independent drainage boards that were once widespread.

“If the pumps that have maintained this valuable area of highly fertile grassland had been switched off we would have been left with nothing but a swamp. More than 100 years ago a system of drainage dykes was constructed in the valley and in the 1980s the Environment Agency installed a pumping system to improve the exit of water.

“But budgetary cuts threatened to switch off the pumps last year. This week we’ve heard we are going to get a two-year reprieve during which time we want to see a new drainage board established to keep the pumps running,” says Mr Bland, who has been working with the full co-operation of the Environment Agency and NFU.

The valley receives about 50 inches of rainfall a year and, unless the water can be removed, land would be submerged for months at a time.

Although there has been a scaling down of the original scheme to maintain the pumping system, Mr Bland and his supporters are confident it will still be effective and provide a basis to broaden the scheme over a wider area.

The proposed cost of running the scheme will be met, in part, by a drainage rate applied on an acreage basis to individual farms benefiting from the drainage system.

The decision to allow the pumps to continue to operate will give enough time for a workable scheme to be devised.

“There is a great deal of work to be done to make this happen, but as well as setting up a scheme along the lines of the independent drainage boards that used to operate, we also want to ensure a high standard of maintenance can be applied to the drainage channels, because that is an essential element of this gravity-fed system.

“Keeping the Lyth Valley properly drained has enabled many farms to make huge improvements in grassland performance. So it would be devastating to those businesses if that was to be placed under threat because of uncontrollable flooding.”

(Watch a video on a flood-hit farmer’s views)

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