Opinion: No room for complacency with sea defences

The Tory MP for Romford, Andrew Rosindell, was in the news recently criticising the fact that we are spending £600m on foreign aid to combat climate change. He suggested that the money should be spent on flood defences at home instead. This received quite a lot of publicity. The BBC used it as a lead news item. 

Personally, I think his suggestion is a bit specious. Of course we should be spending money on flood defences, he is absolutely right in that respect, but it is disingenuous to suggest that this is best achieved by cutting international aid.

It is essential that climate change is tackled and on a global basis. Clearly this should be paid for by the nations emitting the carbon. 

To me, this comment is yet another depressing example of how modern politics has become too parochial. If we are going for random populism then why don’t we fund the necessary investment by imposing VAT at 200% on tattoos or by levying a supertax on Jim Davidson? Perhaps we could sell the cast of The Only Way is Essex to a wealthy Russian oligarch instead.

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I’m worried that Andrew Rosindell’s remark will make some people think that we have a choice about whether or not we maintain our water defences. The reality is that we can’t afford not to invest in flood prevention. 

Through its programme of quantitive easing, the UK government has created £375bn from thin air in the last few years. It has done this by devaluing the pound in our pocket. In the face of such a policy, how dare any politician suggest that there is no money to protect us from flooding? When you are talking about inflation of nearly a third of a trillion pounds, is it really such a big deal to print a few million more pounds to protect citizens and precious natural resources in coastal and low-lying areas?

I should declare that I have a vested interest in this subject. We farm at sea level on either side of the River Welland where it meets the Wash. We see the tide going about its business on a daily basis. It is exactly one year today since the tidal surge which saw Boston, one of our local towns, flooded. The water was lapping an inch from the sea defences and, for those of us who neighbour them, the sight was terrifying. It was also a remarkable testament to the hard work of those people who have built and maintained these sea banks over the last thousand years. It is our national duty to keep them maintained.

A slight change of wind direction 12 months ago could have seen most of the Fens lost to the sea. This area contains half of the Grade 1 soils in the UK. If large tracts of this land were flooded with salty water, as we saw where the defences were breached in Friskney, the reduced production of salads and root vegetables in the UK would have severe consequences for the entire population for many, many years.

In the lead up to the next election, farmers should be demanding that their parliamentary candidates make a commitment to investing in this important matter. If we delay this investment much longer, we might literally have to push the boat out.


Matthew Naylor farms 162ha of Lincolnshire silt in partnership with his father, Nev. Cropping includes potatoes, vegetables, cut flowers and flowering bulbs. Matthew is a trustee of Leaf and a Nuffield scholar.

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