Agency’s refusal to dredge our rivers goes against nature

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From: John O Sturdy, Old Malton, North Yorkshire.

SOME years ago, I regularly attended meetings in York of the Environment Agency as the representative of the National Farmers’ Union. At that time the EA’s subtitle was “Flood Prevention”; now the subtitle is “Flood Management”. This slide from prevention to management shows how the EA is denying its responsibilities and failing the public.

I should explain that I am a farmer on very flat land with a high water table in the bottom of a wide river valley called Ryedale. There is a drainage ditch on all four sides of every field and I have spent a lot of my life in winter keeping the ditches clear of soil and trash. My son, who now runs the farm also spends much time doing this very necessary work. These ditches do the same job on the farm as rivers should do in the countryside. It is only the scale that is different.

The following is a quotation from the Evolution of an English Town by Gordon Home, published in 1905. The town is Pickering. “The importance of keeping the level fields of the Vale properly drained is obvious, for a permanent obstruction might easily mean the flooding of a considerable area.”

The EA said it would not dredge and widen rivers as it would damage the habitats of voles and water beetles, etc. That might be so, but these creatures would find another habitat.

I wonder if the EA ever considers the many thousands of creatures that are killed by floods, from sheep and hares to rabbits, mice, voles and moles who live underground and beetles, bugs and worms. Floods also kill grass and crops which feed many of these creatures, and the soil itself is greatly damaged. The most endangered species in these areas is mankind.

Some people will claim that I am being too critical of the EA. The EA has power to carry out dredging and other maintenance on waterways but it is not obliged to do so. Before the EA starts any work on a waterway, it has to check that it will not interfere with a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) or a special protection area (SPA) or a special area of conservation (SAC).

Some rivers are themselves designated as SSSIs or SACs. Each SSSI has a list of operations which are likely to damage the site. All works undertaken near these sites must have written consent from Natural England (NE). The EA has to take care to avoid disturbing protected species such as water voles and a licence has to be obtained from NE before the work is started. It is unfortunate that man is not classified as a protected species.

The Water Framework Directive imposes obligations to protect water quality. River maintenance has the potential to impact on the ecology of a watercourse and if works are carried out in a manner likely to harm that ecology the EA may take enforcement action against those responsible. There may also be local bylaws which restrict work on waterways.

So it may not be a simple matter for the EA to dredge a river, it has many regulations to adhere to, but I believe it has been hiding behind these other bodies and using them as a reason for neglecting its duties in regard to river maintenance.

The EA has ignored the forces of nature, it has upset Mother Nature who is a vengeful lady. The EA is not fit for purpose.