We live in a country where it rains a lot. Many people round the world would consider us lucky – but whenever there are floods (terrible though they may be) we seem to throw our arms in the air and look for someone to blame. We should all take a good hard look at what we can do to help.
I don’t want to sound insensitive, I know how destructive water and flash floods can be to the victims of flooding – indeed we have suffered significant destruction ourselves but I do think our focus is wrong. I have been following the national debate about floods with some interest – and to be frank, a little disappointment. I was fascinated to read Roger Harrabin (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25931847) where he notes “Green group WWF said farmers should get subsidies only if they agreed to create small floods on their own land to avoid wider flooding in towns and villages.” Sadly, I don’t think that this type of remark is worthy of WWF and skews the debate in an unbalanced way.
As one of many farmers who have an active watershed management scheme (this, essentially, means flood water management to those who don’t live by HMG policy day to day), much of it created in close co-operation with Natural England and the Environment agency, much created on our own initiative and at our own cost, I know that effective watershed management is an important part of the solution to flooding. I also acknowledge the role that we, as farmers, can and must play in this. But I also know that parts of Mindrum are suited to it and parts are not (water, after all, runs downhill!). However, as parts of Mindrum are suited to this, like many of my peers, I do as much as I can. Many farms are less suited to it – the WWF approach, if it has been correctly reported, would therefore not work (if WWF are to maintain a credible voice in this debate they should know this and take a responsible approach. As a charity they also receive significant benefits from the tax payer!).
It might also be worth noting that here on Mindrum we have, to my knowledge, 7 generations of field drainage, some of which are 2-300 years old, and most are still working well. The drainage efficiency here will not have changed significantly in the last 70-100 years. I appreciate that there are significant areas of the greater watershed where drainage has been significantly increased over the past 60 or 70 years, forestry being a prime example. Should we not also look to one of the other significant areas – hard surfaces (e.g. roads and built up areas)? I note a number of reports where farmland is being flooded with urban detritus…we need to take a responsible and balanced view.
Natural England and the Environment Agency are doing a massive amount of work with a huge number of farmers, and a range of other agencies to address the watershed management with significant success in many cases. Farmers are not, however, the only solution to this.
What I do know, and have learnt by listening and watching my ground, is that whilst field and forestry drainage contributes significantly to flash flooding, the other significant contributor is hard surfaces, such as roads, hard standing and roofs. Though these take up significantly less ground than my green arable and forestry enterprises, they have a significant effect with respect to spikes in runoff. Clearly, we do our best to manage these, by establishing runoff areas etc. I should note that there is a significant cost to this – and much of it is not supported by grant funding.
The lesson is clear: If we claim that this is simply a problem for farmers to solve, we have missed the point entirely. This is a problem for us all to address. This includes Planners, Farmers, Forestry (including the Forestry Commission), Local Authorities, Water companies and many more. Significantly it includes each and every one of us who is privileged to manage a bit of ground however small. Do we think of watershed management before putting a patio into our lawn or tarmac on our gravel path? When 100, 1000 or more of us do it (as we do) this has a huge effect on flash runoff. There are few of us who don’t have a part to play in this issue.
We are lucky enough to live in a country where it rains a lot – we have no option but to learn to live with it, and manage it. This is not just one group of society – but all of us – so can we stop casting blame and look to see what else we can all do to ensure that we can live with it…..
P.S. We used to say that there were two certainties in life – Death and Taxes…. For we British… I suspect it should be 3 – Death, Taxes and Rain!