River crisis with Environment Agency and Natural England

Meetings with Natural England and the Environment Agency have dominated the past two weeks. We are one of many farms bordering the Wiltshire/Hampshire River Avon. Much of the river and meadowland are SSSI, but due to a change in policy the Avon Valley is now in a crisis situation.

River policy for the Avon has meant that weed cutting has ceased and Natural England and the Environment Agency want the river to return to its natural state. The legacy of this is summer flooding, providing economic and environmental disaster for farmers.

The river and meadows were designated, because it was clearly recognised that agriculture and the environment were working in harmony together and achieving on behalf of both. Natural England and the Environment Agency are now suggesting to farmers that if they want a weed cut they must do it at their own expense. At present that’s not an acceptable situation, because farmers have never been consulted, and what business would invest in something that it cannot influence?

A radical re-think is needed, and it won’t be just farmers wanting this, villages on the Avon are starting to get flooded gardens, and with that mosquito problems, making this policy an environmental health issue as well.

In my opinion the Environment Agency and Natural England have not adhered to any consistency in implementing such drastic measures. If ever there was false economy then this is surely it, because lack of maintenance on the river will lead to massive costs in flood defence. Amazing how in times of crisis that word “partnership” seems so popular.

Minette Batters farms 120ha on a tenant farm on the Longford Estate in south Wiltshire. The farm carries 100 continental-bred suckler cows, with males finished as bull beef, some sold as stores and the others finished and sold to local butchers. The enterprise also includes a catering business and horse livery. She is NFU county chairwoman for Wiltshire and founder of Ladies in Beef

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