Recent Flooding

The flooding of many of our communities over the Christmas break is clearly a cause for serious concern on a host of grounds. The Catchment Partnership has a role to play in understanding how catchment and watercourse management contributes and what we might be able to do to reduce the frequency and impact of flooding.

Most commentators would agree that the rainfall events in late 2015/early 2016 would have ‘beaten’ any reasonable flood risk management and defence arrangements. However lesser events will continue and we do believe that a holistic integrated approach to catchment management has a key role to play. We are already working with the Environment Agency, White Rose Forest and others to understand exactly what contribution can be made by practices generally known as Natural Flood Management. NFM includes tree planting, woody debris weirs, upland restoration, re-meandering and a range of other interventions which slow down the runoff from land and reduce the peak runoff. These will never be the total solution but do have a part to play and we are pleased that the Secretary of State for the Environment, Liz Truss, has acknowledged this. The partnership has written to her and all MPs in the catchment on the matter, the text is reproduced below:

Responses to extreme flooding: the need for a new approach

Dear Liz,

I am writing to you as Chair of the Aire and Calder Catchment Partnership, a forum of interested stakeholders created with support from Defra to help the UK deliver the Water Framework Directive and broader community benefits. Our partnership includes a wide range of organisations, from public, private and the third sectors. We are, however, writing independently of our valued Defra family partners, as we note it is not their role to comment on existing government policy.

Following the recent flooding events in the Aire-Calder Catchment we were disappointed to hear the Prime Minister use these events as a means to open up a battleground between wildlife and people. Whilst we obviously agree that it is vital to protect homes and businesses from flooding, we think it misleading to suggest that flooding is as a result of wildlife protection measures as was implied. Indeed, measures to protect wildlife are often highly beneficial in helping to protect communities against flooding through Natural Flood Management, a mechanism recognised as a valuable and cost-effective tool by the Government’s own advisors, the Environment Agency.

It should also be noted that where high levels of protection for wildlife are in place, in our rivers or elsewhere, it is because those particular species or habitats are facing significant threats and are of great conservation concern. The sacrifice of such species or habitats is unacceptable and unsustainable, especially if this is to satisfy a media fest of misinformation.

Nor do we consider it acceptable to go back to a trend of canalisation and dredging of rivers, streams and dikes where they are scraped clean of all life. Healthy rivers in their natural state are important to people, whether that be for recreation, inspiration or making a living.

In contrast to seeing wildlife conservation as being a contributing factor to extreme flooding, our view is that provision for wildlife goes hand in hand with greater flood resilience. Over the decades we have seen incremental land use and management changes – in both urban and rural landscapes – which have devastated wildlife and significantly increased the risk to flooding.

Sadly, instances of such change are all too easy to find. For example, around the periphery of the South Pennine Moors agricultural drainage continues and, in the Calder catchment,
European protected blanket bog is still subject to burning even though it is highly damaging in terms of biodiversity, carbon loss, water quality and flooding. Why we ask, does such a management regime continue, apparently with public subsidy through land management grants?

We believe a radical review of land management is required which recognises the value of Natural Flood Management techniques and the multiple benefits that can deliver. In particular we wish to see:

1. A review of all land management grants, which should be dependent upon positive management for the delivery of ecosystem services, including enhanced flood resilience, biodiversity, soil conservation and water quality.
2. Land management payments that better reflect the true value of ecosystem services and provide a much greater incentive for land managers to adopt measures that deliver multiple benefits, including Water Framework Directive and biodiversity objectives.
3. A recognition that our rivers in a natural state serve many functions and are an important recreational, economic and biodiversity asset.
4. An acknowledgement that rivers have a significant role to play in the post-industrial regeneration of areas such as West Yorkshire where investment can not only reduce costs to society but also provide opportunities for new economic activity.
5. An end to the burning of all blanket bog habitats.
6. A more coherent funding strategy for research and also identification of sites where Natural Flood Management would be most effective.

As the Catchment Partnership for the Leeds City Region, we believe we have an important part to play in the above review and would welcome the opportunity to explore how best we contribute to that process with Government agencies. We would also appreciate a response to issues raised above and government is looking to address these. We look forward to your response.

Jeff Keenlyside
Chair of Aire-Calder Catchment Partnership