A long-term strategic blueprint set out by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) calls for the Government to rethink flood and coastal risk management and adopt a “plan, protect and pay” approach.
Launched in Westminster, the manifesto comes just a fortnight after communities and productive farmland along the east coast of the country were threatened by a storm surge.
There are fears that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent yet little decision making involves farmers who are vulnerable to flooding. In winter 2013/14 some 45,000 hectares of agricultural land were flooded at a cost to the sector of £19m.
James Copeland, environment adviser for the NFU’s North East branch, said: “The region has a long history of flood events, but through working collaboratively with land managers, local and national authorities, emergency services and communities we can find a solution to reduce flood risk that benefit everyone.
“We want more joint working as we plan for long-term challenges - an approach that will include more decisions at a local level, including devolving responsibilities to Internal Drainage Boards (IDB) where the Environment Agency is no longer fully funded to carry out maintenance.”
Mr Copeland said a strategy to improve drainage and manage flood risk in the River Hull Valley in East Yorkshire, involving communities, local authorities, government agencies and the local IDB and water company, was a good example of joint-working that should be replicated.
He added: “There also needs to be proper assessment of the value of agriculture when looking at flood management. This is crucially important across the North East, where highly productive farmland is at risk of flooding.
“And where agricultural land is part of the solution to flooding, by providing flood water storage or slowing the flow, this must be planned, agreed and paid for.”
Minette Batters, the NFU’s deputy president, said: “Some of our most productive and highest value agricultural land lies in floodplains or coastal regions vulnerable to flooding and deserves to be protected.”
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We recognise the devastating effect flooding can have on farmers and their land. That is why we are working closely with farmers as part of our long-term £2.5bn investment programme to better protect the country. Our 25 Year Environment Plan will further develop our catchment-based approach to managing rivers as a whole.
“The Autumn Statement announced an additional £15m for natural flood management and rural landowners are already playing a big role in these schemes, which help protect both local farms and communities further downstream.”