Comment: Heed must be taken to slow the flow

Ross Murray is the president of the Country Land and Business Association
Ross Murray is the president of the Country Land and Business Association
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With some sunshine at last making an appearance on farmland in Yorkshire and across the UK, most of us will be thankful to put the cold and wet of winter behind us.

But for the farmers in Yorkshire and beyond that were badly hit by Storms Eva, Frank and others in December and January, it will be many months more before normality is resumed.

The world’s focus has moved on but many of the landowners and land managers affected are still working hard to restore productive land, repair damaged farm infrastructure such as buildings and drainage, and restore habitats for farm wildlife.

The CLA’s work to support flood-hit farming communities and improve flood management policies continues too. Last week I pressed a meeting of influential rural MPs to help reshape the Government’s approach to flood management and this week I discussed these issues with the Environment Minister Elizabeth Truss.

The devastating impacts of floods in recent years have shown very clearly that the current approach to water management is just not working. Instead, a catchment-wide approach is needed that invests not only in the traditional defences we need, but also incentivises landowners to ‘slow the flow’ by changing how they use their land or sacrificing it for flood water storage when necessary.

Speaking to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee as part of their inquiry into the handling of the recent winter floods, I set out the CLA’s proposals for a management system that brings together many players including landowners to implement catchment-wide flood management strategies.

These would include investment in flood defences and measures such as dredging of rivers, but would also see greater investment in ‘slow the flow’ measures such as tree planting in upland areas.

The ‘Slowing the Flow’ initiative at Pickering, where partners work with natural assets to alleviate flood risk, has been heralded as a demonstration of how successful this type of approach can be.

The time to put this new approach in place is now - before homes and communities are hit by another major flood. Rural landowners want to be a part of the solution but the right long-term support needs to be in place for those willing to store flood water or put in place measures designed to slow its flow.

Government investment in water management in recent years has been frustratingly piecemeal and it is high time the resources available were deployed in a more joined up way, by looking at how best to manage the threats and benefits of a river at a catchment level.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee will report the outcomes of its inquiry in the autumn of 2016 and you can be sure that the CLA will be active in working with Government and its agencies to ensure rural communities see real, effective action.

Ross Murray is the president of the Country Land and Business Association, which represents more than 33,000 landowners, farmers and rural businesses. He is a trustee of Llanover and Coldbrook Estates in Monmouthshire, south east Wales, and a qualified chartered surveyor.