Defra flood report ‘fails to recognise farming’

The role of agriculture in flood risk mitigation has been largely overlooked in the government’s national flood resilience review, prompting criticism from farm leaders.

Defra’s flood defence review was announced in January after devastating floods caused huge damage across northern England last December.

The 145-page report (pdf) published on Thursday (8 September), says that winter rainfall could be 20-30% higher over the next 10 years. It warns that the risk of extreme flooding is increasing due to climate change.

See also: Defra flood payments start to flow

In response, the government will invest £12.5m in temporary flood defences – four times more barriers than this time last year – and mobile water pumps.

A new stress test to assess the risk of flooding from seas and rivers will also be introduced this autumn. The report also includes a commitment from utility companies to increase flood protection.

Defra secretary Andrea Leadsom said the government would invest £2.5bn up to 2021 to mitigate flood risk “to protect families, homes and businesses”.

Farm leaders have welcomed the report, but say it largely overlooks how farming and land management could reduce flooding.

Where is farming?

Commenting on the report, the NFU said it was concerned that there was very little mention of agriculture, rural communities or food security.

Extensive flooding near Welshpool, Powys,  when the River Severen burst its banks © Graham M. Lawrence/LNP/REX Shutterstock

Extensive flooding near Welshpool, Powys, when the River Severen burst its banks © Graham M. Lawrence/LNP/REX Shutterstock

NFU environment forum member Richard Bramley said: “The report focuses heavily on the future protection of infrastructure.

“However, it does not recognise that much of the country’s infrastructure – our roads, rail network or electricity grid, for example – is on farmland.

“Government policies for flood resilience and food security must be based around three core principles: planning, protection and funding models.”

Productive land ‘vital’

Food and farming generates £108bn each year for the economy and productive agricultural land is essential to produce food to feed the nation, he added.

Therefore, Defra needs to put policies and systems in place to protect the most productive agricultural land, rural infrastructure and communities, and work with the industry to minimise the impact of flooding.

Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said a Brexit would give the government an opportunity to allocate farm subsidies to farmers and landowners to introduce measures to reduce the risk of flooding in their areas and protect wildlife and provide carbon storage on their land to help combat climate change.

The NFU produced a two-page summary (pdf) of its own flooding manifesto on Thursday.

The document says the final costs of the 2015 winter floods to agriculture are unknown. However, it estimates that the costs of the 2007 and 2013-14 floods on agricultural businesses were £50m and £19m respectively.

The report says government funding priorities concentrate on people and property and farmers experience a “lack of maintenance of watercourses and coastal channels and reduced maintenance of banks and flood defence assets”.

“The result is more frequent, more extensive and longer duration flooding,” it adds. “This is an unsustainable and inequitable outcome, which causes damage to farming businesses and rural communities.”

The NFU wants the government to establish a “long-term, strategic plan” for flood and coastal risk management.

The NFU Flood Manifesto will be released in December 2016.