Paying Farmers in England To Let Land Flood: A Costly Mistake?
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January 25, 2016

Plans to pay farmers in England for allowing their land to be flooded are to be considered, the government has said. The idea has been circulating for quite some time, but it has gained new momentum in recent weeks after the chairman of the Commons Environment Committee Neil Parish said on 7th January 2016 that he was in favour of paying farmers to take flood waters.

Farmers currently receive money through the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy for keeping their land in a farmable condition. Under the proposed flooding farmland grant plans, farmers could be rewarded for designating land to be inundated during periods of heavy rainfall in the effort to retain excess water, thereby acting to potentially reduce the risk of downstream flooding. Allowing land to flood would represent a U-turn on the current situation in which many farmers are urging the authorities to protect their land against flooding.

Farmers would also be encouraged and allowed to undertake minor works on field ditches without asking for permission first from the Environment Agency. This has been welcomed by farmers who have argued that the Environment Agency has been micro-manging flood control. Increased maintenance of drainage ditches could potentially lead to an increase in available storage capacity and greater transmission of flood waters.

Could the plans backfire? It could be argued that by increasing drainage in fields, the transmission of water during periods of heavy rainfall to river systems would be enhanced thereby potentially increasing the risk of flooding downstream. Could flooding large areas of farmland lead to greater water contamination and quantities of sediment in our watercourses? Greater, sustained flooding of farmland could also be detrimental to farm businesses and the food they produce. Quantifying the effects and response of such plans at both a local scale and catchment scale is inherently challenging and therefore a clear and pragmatic approach moving forward is welcomed.

Envireau Water will be keeping a close on eye on any developments surrounding these plans.