Floods bring plea to rethink plan to return farmland to nature

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A COUNCILLOR is calling for a review of plans to turn farmland into wetland after fears that last month’s tidal surge has played into the hands of a Government agency which wants to move back local flood defences.

December’s record-breaking surge forced its way through the main Humber floodbank near Welwick in five locations and overtopped at a dozen others.

Temporary repairs have since been carried out by the internal drainage board to the bank, 
while a quarter-of-a-mile section protecting the adjacent Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Welwick Saltmarsh Nature Reserve has been 
reinforced with one-tonne sandbags.

East Riding councillor Arthur Hodgson said people were “extremely worried” about flooding ahead of this week’s Spring tides, which will peak on Friday.

The Environment Agency has been planning for several years now to turn 345 acres of riverside farmland into wetland habitats by building new defences inland and then breaching the old defences.

Some residents object to turning productive agricultural land into habitat “for worms and birds” as part of legally-required compensation for industrial development elsewhere on the Humber, such as Able UK’s vast marine energy park in north Lincolnshire.

Coun Hodgson claimed locals were not being allowed to do “proper” repairs, including bringing in materials from outside to build up the damaged banks, as that would make the defences more sustainable in the long term and make the argument for moving them more difficult.

He said: “I want to raise this at the council. I want full council to have a look at what the Environment Agency are doing and what realigning the flood defences would do to the economy of the region. I would like to stop it or relook at it.

“As far as I am concerned it will severely disrupt the farming economy and lead to the potential loss of livelihood for many.”

The Humber Strategy manager, Philip Winn, said the surge had proved that the defences were not high enough and they would fail or overtop again in a repeat extreme event.

He said improving the defences would be a waste of money as they still wanted to go ahead with the realignment scheme in 2015.

He said: “We aim to build a realignment site at Welwick to allow defence improvements to be made within the middle estuary and especially at Hull, but the scheme will also deliver improved defences locally.

“We will build a stronger and higher bank at the back of the site, and that will ensure better protection for the village of Weeton to the east of Welwick, and it will also help better defend the huge area of agricultural land on Sunk Island.

He added: “Local people would indeed prefer see the defences at this location raised to provide a good standard of protection, and to protect what is good farmland.

Land around the estuary is nearly all good farmland, as is the case at Welwick, and it has nearly all been reclaimed in the past from the estuary.

“However, as well as managing the defences, the Environment Agency is also tasked with managing the associated habitats, and in order to keep the defences generally maintained on their present alignments, we need to create some new habitat to replace the losses that are occurring.

“It was suggested that locally-available waste rubble might be used in the repairs, but using this wouldn’t have been inappropriate within an internationally-protected marine site.”

The Environment Agency has claimed that the rare combination of factors – an area of very low pressure tracking across the North Sea to the north of Denmark accompanied by strong northerly winds that led to the flooding of hundreds of homes on December 5, is unlikely to be repeated this week.

However, they may issue some flood alerts and possibly some flood warnings.