Flood Action Week: Farmers demand Environment Agency raises game

An NFU open letter urging all three political parties to outline their plans to protect farming businesses from flooding has attracted more than 1,750 signatures.

The letter has been sent to the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, emphasising the vital role that protecting agricultural land from severe flooding plays in producing food for the nation.

About 1,000 out of the 1,750 farmers and growers who added their name to the letter said their businesses had been directly impacted by the recent storms, Babet and Ciaran.

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Both storms brought torrential downpours across the country, leaving large swathes of UK farmland submerged, causing serious damage to crops and infrastructure.

The NFU’s call for action comes as Flood Action Week (20-26 November), an initiative run by the Environment Agency (EA) that urges businesses to prepare for increased weather extremes, gets under way.

NFU deputy president Tom Bradshaw said: “In the past few weeks, we have once more seen hundreds of farms across the country face the devastation of flooding and the huge financial stress and misery that brings.

“It stems from a failure to get to grips with the challenges of managing watercourses and improving and maintaining our flood defences.

“With climate change one of our biggest challenges, it’s inevitable that storms will become more frequent and heavy rainfall will become more prevalent. That’s why we need to see urgent action to tackle this issue.”

The open letter calls for:

  • A proactive management plan for EA-controlled watercourses and flood defences as a priority.
  • Changes to the Flood Defence Grant in Aid cost-benefit analysis. The way that funding for flood defences is currently allocated leaves farmers and rural communities at a higher risk than urban communities.
  • Farmers must be fairly paid for flood storage on their land, with agreements put in place that allow them to plan for it and ensure recovery procedures are in place.

Lincolnshire farmer Henry Ward whose arable farm in Short Ferry was severely flooded during Storm Babet – for a second time in four years – called for major change in the government’s approach towards maintenance of watercourses to prevent farms from flooding.

He said: “I understand that the EA is saying it has had its budget halved by Defra over the last 10 years, but they are not the best at utilising the money they receive to tackle flooding prevention. They do waste a lot of money.

“Because there is so much maintenance of our watercourses that needs to be done, I personally would like the Internal Drainage Board to take over a lot more of the work without the red tape that is involved with the agency.”

Flood storage

Mr Ward added that he was in dialogue with the EA about finding ways to use his land to store water during floods.

The EA told Farmers Weekly it has a finite amount of money to spend on maintenance, so it must prioritise activities that protect lives and property.

It said the government’s Environmental Land Management programme will collectively pay farmers and land managers to deliver increasing resilience to flooding and drought through nature-based solutions such as natural flood management.

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