CLA FEATURE: Holding back the tide

10 January 2019

Flood defence in Lincolnshire

An innovative partnership approach to tackling the risk of flooding in Lincolnshire has seen a major project completed to help safeguard farmland and homes. Lee Murphy has been to take a look.

Over 3,400 hectares of prime grade one farmland along with 460 domestic and industrial properties in coastal Lincolnshire are better protected following the completion of a flood defence project involving the co-ordinated efforts of flood risk management authorities and local landowners.

In an area of The Wash shoreline previously viewed as potentially catastrophic - particularly if ever there were a repeat of the devastating North Sea flood of 1953 when waters reached as far as two kilometres inland - a partnership project has raised and re-profiled sea defences.  This has improved the standard of protection for both properties and farmland, whilst creating additional wildlife habitat.

An Environment Agency review back in 2012 had identified a 5km stretch of The Wash sea defences near the village of Wrangle in the borough of Boston as particularly vulnerable, with the lowest sea banks along the Wash frontage, and only a single line of defence.

The project, led by Witham Fourth District Internal Drainage Board (W4IDB), involved re-profiling the sea banks and raising them to over 7 metres high, with a 1 in 3 rear slope leading to a soke dyke to cope with future over-topping. The project created a maintenance strip behind the bank and larger soke dykes. During high tides, these accommodate the water that permeates up through the ground and during heavy rainfall, they enable surplus water to flow to the nearby pumping stations.

It was the tidal surge of December 2013, again breaching the main line of defence just as it had 60 years earlier, that galvanised farmers and landowners to push for action.  W4IDB were approached by the Environment Agency to lead on the project and a Project Board was set up with partner representatives from Lincolnshire County Council, the landowners, Natural England and the Environment Agency to deliver the project.

This partnership approach, combined with the number of households and businesses protected, including significant industrial units such as pack-houses, enabled an application of support through Defra and EU funding, with a combined total of almost £1.8 million secured to complete the works.

Peter Bateson, chief executive of W4IDB, explains: “This was a comprehensive project that followed a major survey in 2016 to identify the existing profile of the banks, collect environmental information and to assess the full scope of the works.

“Crucially, the programme required the buy-in of all involved, particularly landowners and businesses, as well as the local community. We were also very conscious of our environmental commitments, and liaised closely with Natural England, RSPB and the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.”

Indeed, as well as creating much enhanced sea defences, the Wrangle Sea Banks project has enabled at least 10 hectares of habitat creation behind the banks including grassland and semi-wetland habitats.

“Landowners have contributed around 40 linear metres of farmland to provide the spoil to re-profile the sea banks. This equates to a considerable donation of land, from farmers, to be converted to non-farm use and habitat gain,” adds Mr Bateson.

It was a highly sensitive project, as the area sits alongside a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It was crucial to tally the environmental considerations, with the development and design of the bank, while retaining as much of the important agricultural land as possible for grazing and food production.

“The Project Board held monthly meetings during the planning stages, that included making plans for the management of the cattle that graze the salt marsh, and preserving the organic pasture behind the existing sea bank.” explains Mr Bateson.

It was this joined up approach, and the buy-in from landowners such as Hugh Drake, that enabled the project to proceed. Mr Drake, who farms some 800 acres on the northern edge of the Wrangle project, growing wheat, vining peas, brassicas and potatoes, was one of the landowners contributing farmland.

He comments: “The government's recognition of the vulnerability of the sea-defences on the western side of The Wash has been a great step forward and follows the damage done by the events of December 2013.

“In those parts of the sea-banks where there is only a single line of defence the risks of flood damage to valuable farmland, residents and property, as well as the substantial business enterprises in the area, have now been addressed. The Wrangle project is a step in the right direction to improve the resilience of the sea-defence.”

Mr Drake continues: “Farmers and landowners have made a very significant contribution in kind to the project by sacrificing their land, which has been estimated at some 50 acres of some of the best food-producing land in the country.

“It will be an indication of the government's commitment to environmental issues, when the environmental enhancements of the whole scheme are properly recognised and form part of agriculture's contribution to current and future stewardship schemes.”

Adding to Mr Drake’s comments, Cllr Colin Davie of Lincolnshire County Council said: “I am delighted to see the successful completion of this latest major scheme.  Lincolnshire's flood risk and water partnership was put together six years ago, to promote exactly this kind of co-ordinated working, where each organisation contributes its own specialism to achieve more for our communities and businesses than would have happened were we all working alone.

“In this case, using £1.3m of Defra grant funding we have secured an additional half a million pounds of external investment that would otherwise have gone somewhere else.  I look forward to our partnership continuing to attract more external funding to help secure a stronger economic future for our county.”

As the project completed at the end of September 2018, this major centre for food production and processing has never been better defended against the risk of coastal and river flooding, helping to protect the people, towns, businesses and farmers in this part of the Fens.

CLA Lincolnshire committee member Stafford Proctor is Chairman of The Wash Frontage Group, which has been a catalyst for getting the project off the ground. He is proud of the achievements at Wrangle and is looking ahead to where else sea defences need to be improved. He said: “I see this project as very much a benchmark for what can be done when people work together and is a model for what can be achieved. Now the really important thing is for us to start looking at the next weakest link in our chain – identified by a review in 2012 – and to get on and start a project there.”

A climate of change

A new climate change report by the Environment Agency suggests global temperatures may rise to 4°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century if action is not taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The report says summer maximum temperatures could rise by up to 10°C in parts of England by the 2080s and sea levels will rise for decades and centuries ahead. Sea level rise is predicted to be between 0.4 and 1 metre by 2100, and possibly by as much as 4 metres by 2300. To read the full report search for ‘climate change impacts and adaptation’ on the Gov.uk website.