Tackling Flooding

CLA Policy Adviser on Climate Change and Water Alice Ritchie explores ways to mitigate the devastating impacts caused by flooding

Judging on the flood risk maps, unless you’re in Wales, Cornwall or maybe Kent, there aren’t many of us escaping a weekend of wet weather and potential flooding. This won’t be welcome news for those who have spent much of the past few weeks under water, with heavy rain and flooding starting over the Christmas break and continuing into January. Many in the North, East and Midlands are still recovering from Storm Christoph, with many homes, businesses and properties damaged.

However, if there weren’t farmers and land owners up and down the country storing that flood water on their land and making sure it doesn’t travel further downstream, the damage to rural and urban communities would be exponentially worse. Farmers play a really important role in protecting homes and businesses in this way, and it’s one that doesn’t get shouted about enough.

With climate change greatly increasing flood risk – potentially by up to 90%, according to the Met Office – this role has really changed for farmers and land managers. Previously, we knew to expect flooding at a certain level based on traditional ‘probabilities’, for example, if you are in a Flood Zone 3, you know you’ve got a 1 in 100 or greater annual probability of flooding in any year (known as a 1 in 100-year flood). Recent events have shown that these probabilities have been thrown out. We’ve got members up and down the country who have had land spend up to three weeks under 1 metre of water in recent years and, just as it dries off, more heavy rain and flooding arrives. Farmers are well-versed in coping with a bit of adverse weather – be it flood or drought – but nothing, no crops, no grass, can survive under that amount of water for that length of time.

This is not an easy problem to solve. We are at a point in the climate crisis where we know these weather patterns will continue to get more extreme and there will be very little we can do to prevent them. However, there are a number of options to mitigate the devastating impacts of floods.

For starters, it is critical that the Environment Agency uphold their statutory responsibility to maintain main rivers and reduce flood risk in those areas. The £5.2bn announced towards new flood infrastructure is fantastic, but misdirected – it would be far better spent on maintaining what we’ve already got. The CLA has expanded more on this in our press release this week.

For farmers and landowners, it might be time to start thinking about flood-risk land in a different way. Are there flood resistant crops that could be grown? Would the area be better suited to a washland or wetland, and paid for through the Environmental Land Management (England) or Sustainable Land (Wales) Schemes? Would a Natural Flood Risk Management project be beneficial? How can soil be managed in a different way to increase water absorption? Could a reservoir be built to store that flood water?

This is all explored in our CLA Water Strategy, which will be published on the CLA website shortly. For those at immediate risk of flooding, you can check up to date flood risk maps in England here and in Wales here and check a briefing published by the CLA in early 2020 with all the information needed here