A month ago I wrote about the floods and the politics involved in preparing for and dealing with them ( See here ). I make no apology for returning this subject so soon, not least because there has been no respite and flooding continues in many places. Neither the water, the Government nor the weather seems to be moving on.
The biggest disappointment is the lack of vision, understanding and willingness to take appropriate and effective action. Some blame nature conservation for exacerbating the problems, ignoring evidence that the opposite is true. The dredgers and drainers claim that otters and crayfish are favoured over homes and businesses. This whilst themselves moving water as quickly as possible off their land to inundate the next town downstream. Those who want rivers restored to their natural contours, seasonal floodplains reinstated, and trees instead of sheep in the uplands (all of which incidentally benefit wildlife) are derided.
The folly and scandal is that public money supports both grouse moor management and hill sheep farming, both of which significantly accelerate run-off in upland headwaters. There is evidence in Pickering, Yorkshire, that alternative management does mitigate flooding. The full story is too long to relate here, but in essence it is this. The town flooded frequently but was denied an engineered £20M flood scheme. Local people worked together to block and impede the watercourses in the hills above the town, planted 26 hectares of trees, and built a bund to impound high flows and slowly release the water. This time there have been no floods in the town.
We urgently need more schemes of this sort. There are no easy answers, and no one way of dealing with the water. We have to start somewhere though, so here is my four point plan to address years of misguided actions, the results of which are all too clear.
- Stop giving planning permission for houses and businesses on floodplains.
- Divert subsidies for sheep farming and grouse moor management to re-afforestation of the uplands.
- Divert money for dredging into restoring rivers’ natural contours.
- Develop integrated flood management according to local circumstances, incorporating the best combination of engineered and restored natural flood defences.
This is not about spending more, it is about spending smart. Everybody wins: local communities, farmers, insurance companies and, yes, wildlife.