The CLA View

The first column from Acting Regional Director Mark Riches
Mark Riches - Approved.jpg

This is my first piece as Acting Regional Director for CLA East and I am very much looking forward to getting out and about in the coming year and meeting as many members as possible.

In my first two weeks I have already attended every committee meeting in the region and it has provided me with an excellent opportunity to hear first-hand about the challenges and opportunities for land managers in this part of the world.

With the clear up of the latest major storm, Storm Ciarán, underway the CLA has warned of the impact of flooding on farming and rural communities, calling on the Environment Agency to do more to help.

Flooding can have a massive impact on farming and the countryside, with crops damaged and rural communities often cut off.

Years of poor management of watercourses and flood defences by the Environment Agency (EA), often caused by lack of resources, mean farmers are still unfairly shouldering the burden of flooding devastation.

Landowners don’t receive compensation when the Environment Agency effectively floods their fields to protect downstream houses and villages, despite the harm to their crops and livelihoods. And when farmers do attempt to implement flood prevention techniques, they face lengthy authorisation delays and costs, creating a lose-lose situation.

Farmers want to provide solutions to the climate crisis. But until the government steps in to tackle planning delays and offer full and proper compensation to those storing floodwater, farmers will continue paying the price for problems they didn’t create.

The CLA is regularly raising flooding resilience issues with Defra and the Environment Agency, and has some clear asks in its CLA Water Strategy, which sets out our high-level ambitions. These include:

  • Ensuring that the £5.2bn fund for flood risk reduction is used for maintenance of existing infrastructure as well as new, and to tackle bureaucratic delays in approving work, and building a partnership approach between landowners and the EA.
  • Catchment focused flood risk partnerships that include affected landowners.
  • Improving data and mapping on flood risk to improve decision making on land use, insurance and investment.
  • Increased funding for Natural Flood Management (NFM). In September 2023 Defra announced a £25 million fund for new NFM projects over next four years, with applications due by 10 November. This is expected to result in an additional 200 projects.
  • Improved options within Countryside Stewardship schemes that support NFM and water level management.
  • Full consent and compensation for landowners who store flood water that prevents flooding downstream.

In recent years there have been all too many crisis points related to water – whether it is pollution incidences in our rivers, “once in a lifetime” floods happening yearly, or long periods of hot, dry weather damaging crops, impacting livestock and threatening the water security of rural businesses.

The CLA’s Water Strategy – a vision for the water environment to 2030 – focuses on how our members, who are a range of farmers, landowners and rural businesses, can contribute to the stewardship of the water environment in England and Wales.

While land managers are ready and willing to act, there simply must be greater supportive action from the Government, local authorities, water companies and other environmental groups.