Countryside Matters 2014 - page 8-9

Countryside
Matters
6
Countryside
Matters
7
MANAGING WATER
MANAGING WATER
season it left agricultural landwaterlogged formanymonths. The rain tested
flooddefencesbeyondtheirdesign limitsandalsomanyfield and localdrainage
systems. TheEnvironment Agencyhas permissivepowers todoworks on so-
calledmain rivers, with Local Authorities having similar powers on ordinary
watercoursesexcept inpartsof thecountrywhere thereareDrainageDistricts
where InternalDrainageBoardsareresponsible.
Weencourage farmersand landowners toconsidersimplechanges to theway
theymanagethe land,whichcanreducefloodingdownstream.Thiscan include
takingmeasurestoreducesoilcompactionwhich increases infiltrationandalso
contour ploughing, where rather thanploughingupanddown thehillsides, so
thatwheneverwegetheavyrain it justrunsdown the furrowsstraight into the
ditchesandrivers,farmersplougharoundthehillside.Thisnotonlystemsrunoff
butalsomeansthat lesssoil isbeingwashed intoriverswithbothenvironmental
andfloodriskmanagementbenefits.
Landusechangesareanotherwayfloodriskcanbereducedbydifferenttypes
ofcropping. Therehavebeenexamples in theSouthWestofwater runningoff
hillsides (muddyfloods)asa resultofgrasslandbeingploughed forcropssuch
asmaizeandparsnips, leaving the soil exposedduring thewinter. So through
collaborative working and gathering scientific evidence, we are looking to
help landowners and farmers, so that theydon’t lose topsoil, theydon’t block
up drains and watercourses with silt, and they provide wider benefits within
the catchment of the river that thenhelps protect their neighbours’ landand
communitiesdownstream.
A big issue for some landowners and farmers is dredging of rivers. Wemet
withtheCounciloftheNationalFarmers’Union (NFU) inFebruary lastyearand
therewere twomainmessages; 1, restore historic dredging andmaintenance
of rivers and2, make it easier for famers tomanage their ownwatercourses
by trusting them todo the right thing.Wedredgeandde-silt riverswhere it is
cost-beneficial anda technical appraisal shows that itwill reduceflood riskat
the locationwithoutmakingmattersworse elsewhere and ourworkswill not
damagetheenvironment.Dredgingeffectivelyreducesfloodrisk insomecases
but not all. It can alsoprovide landdrainage benefits by allowing free gravity
discharge fromfielddrainagesystems. TheNational FloodandCoastalErosion
RiskManagement Strategy approved by Parliament in July 2011 sets out the
Government’s priorities and seeks tomaximise the return on investment for
thetaxpayer.Thismeansthatweprioritisemaintenancewheremostpeople live
ratherthancarryonwithhistoricpractices.
We have been working with the NFU, Country Business and Landowners’
Association (CLA), Natural England, wildlife and fishing organisations and
the Government to reduce red tape around the consents and permissions
that farmers and landowners need to de-siltmain rivers. FromOctober 2013,
farmers and landowners are able to de-silt main rivers where there are no
special conservation interestswithout formally applying for consent from the
Environment Agency. In doing this, we are trying to strike the right balance
betweenallowingfarmerstodotheworkwithoutunnecessarybureaucracyand
at the same time providing sufficient safeguards to protect the environment.
Theresults fromthesepilotswillhelptheGovernmentdecidehowwatercourse
maintenanceactivitieswill be regulated in the future.Anotherfloodmitigation
approachbeing trialled is to slow theflow in thecatchment. TheEnvironment
Agency isapartner inapilotprojectwith theForestryCommission, Defra, the
Local Authority and others in North Yorkshire to improve protection to the
“In theSouthWestwater runsoff thehillsidesasa result
ofgrasslandbeingploughed for crops.”
Sustainable floodmanagement
Sustainablefloodmanagement isanapproachtoplanninganddeliveringmeasurestoreducefloodrisk.
Landmanagement, includingupland
forestmanagement,canhelpreduce
run-offandfloodflowstodownstreamareas
Wherefloodplainsandwetlands
areconnectedtorivers, theflood
storagetheyprovidecanreducethe
riskofdownstreamflooding
Floodwarnings
at lower levels
helpcommunities
respondto
floodrisks
Increasingresiliencetofloodrisk
isan importantcomponentof
sustainablefloodmanagement.
Resiliencetofloodingcanbe
increasedthroughavarietyof
measures, includingfloodwarning,
flooddefences ,naturalflood
management (egfloodplainstorage)
andquickandeffectiveresponses
toflooding.
FloodingoftheRiverOtter in
EastDevonduringthewinter
2012/2013
ILLUSTRATION:CHRISDUGGAN
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