Farmers warned to protect themselves against flood risk

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FARMERS across the region are being urged to draw up contingency plans to help protect their estates amid concerns that winter deluges will hit the beleaguered agricultural industry.

The Environment Agency is calling on Yorkshire’s farming communities to prepare themselves and their businesses as the country enters the wettest months of the year. Winter sees more rain on average than other times of the year, increasing the risk of flooding.

The Environment Agency’s regional flood risk manager, Phil Younge, said: “Flooding can and does have a devastating impact on communities, and many farmers know from personal experience how flooding can destroy crops and endanger livestock.

“When flooding occurs, there is usually very little time to respond, and time can seem especially short if your farm covers a large area or if you have a property, equipment or livestock spread out at different locations.

“However, with some preparation beforehand, it is possible to have some contingency plans in place to help minimise the impact, and we are urging farming businesses to do what they can.”

The wettest months run from October to January, which all see an average monthly rainfall of more than 80mm. The average monthly rainfall in England rises from 54.2mm in July to 90.5mm in December. As part of a month-long campaign to boost community flood resilience, the Environment Agency wants to help farmers to protect themselves and their businesses where they can.

The agency’s tips for farmers include knowing what early warning systems are available and how to use them as well as identifying land most at risk.

The agency has also urged farmers to find out what the current programme of watercourse maintenance is and mitigate any changes to the programme, and ensuring they have the most appropriate insurance in place.

Farmers have also been urged not to put their lives at risk and prepare a flood plan for their family as well as their business.

Mr Younge said: “Our message to everyone is that floods destroy. Now is an ideal time to look at how you can protect yourself better because as the autumnal weather comes, we move into the wettest months of the year.”

A personal or family flood plan will include lists of important contact phone numbers, information on how to turn off electrical equipment and utility supplies, and a checklist of emergency equipment that could be useful during a flood. A number of free flood warning services are available including Flood Warnings Direct.

Graham Clarke, who runs a mixed farm next to the River Swale near Pickhill in North Yorkshire, knows firsthand the devastating effects of the weather after almost a third of his 1,000 acres and a house were flooded last September when the river burst its banks. Having seen what was happening with the river he was able to warn people in the nearby village.

Mr Clarke said: “Last year I did warn a few people in Pickhill that they were not going to be able to get out of their houses with a car the following morning. The end of September is quite a crucial time for sewing crops.

“Because the water came at that time of year it meant that we did not sew our crops in autumn like we would normally have done so we had to sew them in spring. That meant we got a lower yield.”

Mr Clarke has teamed up with a group of farmers in a bid to protect their own land and Pickhill from future risk of flooding and they are in the process of building a flood bank at Allerthorpe, which they have funded.

The farmer, along with fellow members of Swale and Ure Drainage Board, is also looking into the possibility of taking over the maintenance of the river banks in the future.

Mr Clarke said: “We have had a decent summer and things are back to normal but you never know what the weather is going to do each week.”