Making the most of our water

River landscape_65029

A new NFU report calls for a more integrated approach to water management, something that’s an increasing priority for farmers across the North East.

Extreme weather is impacting British farming’s ability to produce food and it is becoming clear that our ageing water infrastructure is struggling to cope.

At the same time, policies around droughts and floods continue to be dealt with in silos, so, for example, flood water is pumped out to the North Sea rather than being captured to help maintain supplies during hot, dry summers.

These issues are addressed in a new report from the NFU, which calls for urgent action to bring the nation’s water infrastructure up to date to better deal with extreme weather events, from flooding to drought. It urges government, water companies and farmers to properly invest in water management as a critical response to climate change and sets out why a long-term, collaborative approach is needed.

Across the North East, the drive to achieve more joined-up thinking is well underway, with the region subjected to frequent major flooding events as well as challenges when water becomes more scarce and with increasing pressure to improve water quality too.

The situation on flooding is such – with Yorkshire’s Pennine-fed rivers struggling to cope with the increased heavy rainfall events – that new approaches being explored in the North East could prove instrumental in helping develop future national water management strategies.

James Copeland is the region’s environment and land use adviser charged with the task of challenging current thinking and encouraging a more collaborative approach – to the benefit of all. He believes progress is being made as the product of a long-standing drive to forge close working relationships with all the key decision makers in the region’s complex water management jigsaw.

“There are a whole raft of different plans, strategies and policies at local level covering everything from flood risk management and habitat creation, to abstraction regulation and there are an equally large number of players influencing outcomes: the Environment Agency, local authorities, private water companies, internal drainage boards – the list goes on,” he said.

“Our approach has been to work closely with as many groups as possible and secure a seat at the table to ensure the farming voice is heard. The goal is to make sure that water quality strategies, water resource plans and flood risk management plans knit together better so that the expectations of farmers and the assessment of the public good they provide is more coherent for the long term.”

With the impacts of both flood and drought on the region well documented, James says Yorkshire is an area regularly brought to the attention of the Flooding Minister, Rebecca Pow MP – giving regional farmers an excellent opportunity to make their case and highlight how different approaches could work.

“This work is still at an early stage, and of course forms part of the NFU’s national work to improve the water management situation,” added James. “Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see innovative thinking coming to the fore and stakeholders looking at how national policies can be interpreted more helpfully. A more joined-up approach cannot come too soon for our members.”