Landowners hold the key to protecting rural communities, reducing the risk of flooding, increasing resilience to drought and improving water quality, according to a new report released by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).
With the first few months of 2021 seeing one of the driest Aprils on record, followed by one of the wettest Mays, it is clear that we are seeing the impacts of climate change and that they are here to stay. Some farms were submerged in water for over three months this past winter, which led to the inability to plant crops for an entire year. And with winters getting milder and wetter due to climate change, the Met Office predicts that the risk of floods has increased by at least 20% and up to 90%.
The CLA Water Strategy: a vision for the water environment to 2030 policy paper, released by the CLA which represents 28,000 landowners and farmers across England and Wales, found that under the right policy framework, landowners could play a key role in improving the wider water environment by harnessing nature-based solutions, at comparatively low cost.
Currently, the Environment Agency (EA), Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs), alongside landowners and farmers, share responsibility for flood defences. However, the EA and NRW are often too slow to respond to essential maintenance of existing flood defences, leaving many communities vulnerable to serious flooding.
Many landowners are already stepping-up and protect their local communities, but are often crippled by uncertainty on whether they can undertake the maintenance work themselves. Community supported organisations like internal drainage boards, or locally-led partnerships like the Somerset Rivers Authority are often far better placed than the EA or NRW to maintain main rivers, so the CLA argues these organisations should be allowed to take over responsibility for main rivers across England and Wales.
The solution to flood defences is sitting right on our doorstep at the fraction of the price of new infrastructure: natural flood risk management
Landowners using their land to mitigate flood risks through Natural Flood Risk Management (NFM) projects has been proven to be extremely successful.* These projects can involve creating wetlands and saltmarshes, or planting trees to stabilise riverbanks, with the aim of slowing the flow of water, helping it to be absorbed, while also improving biodiversity, water quality, water availability and carbon storage.
To empower landowners and support them in their desire to protect local communities and mitigate flood risk, the government needs to provide adequate support through policy.
To make this happen, the CLA is calling for:
- Rights and responsibilities of landowners – the EA and NRW to make the rights and responsibilities of landowners clear to allow for effective and flexible flood defence work, helping to avoid unnecessary flooding of rural properties.
- Maintaining flood defence assets – £75m of funding per year for maintenance of existing flood defence assets, on top of the funding already earmarked for new flood defence assets, that would provide cost effective flood defences while improving the environment.
- Catchment-focused flood management –government to allow for regional approaches and flexibility, including the effective use of Natural Flood Risk Management projects and support for ‘de-maining’ programmes looking to transfer flood risk responsibilities to the best-placed body to do so.
Mark Bridgeman, President of the CLA, said: “We want to see the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales uphold their responsibilities for essential maintenance, and where they are unable to adequately maintain flood defences, to transfer responsibility to the best placed organisation to do so. In some circumstances this will be to local internal drainage boards, specially established flood risk partnerships like the Somerset Rivers Authority, or, where appropriate, local land managers. Many of these land managers already play a crucial role in using their land to prevent local communities and businesses bearing the brunt of flood damage.
“Of course, this needs to come with the right government support and funding. But the solution to flood defences is sitting right on our doorstep at the fraction of the price of new infrastructure: natural flood risk management.”
*Natural Flood Risk Management Case study: Bolesworth Estate, Mill Brook, Tattenhall Cheshire
After extensive flooding in the early 2000s, it was clear the community of Tattenhall in Cheshire would be subject to increasing flood risk in the coming decades. In an effort to reduce potential damage as far as possible, the team at Bolesworth Estate, along with tenant farmers, the Environment Agency (EA) and the local Wildlife Trust looked into how changes to the landscape could potentially help.
The Mill Brook was previously straightened hundreds of years ago for a village mill and to increase the amount of agricultural land available, ultimately putting the local community at greater flood risk and increasing the amount of diffuse pollution in the water course.
To “slow the flow” two large flood storage areas were created, a wider riparian zone with a wildlife corridor and two large woody dams. This created 1.5 hectares of priority reedbed and wet grassland, making more space for flood water whilst enhancing habitats and improving biodiversity. These NFM projects have helped to mitigate flood risk to 2,000 people living downstream.