On 5 December 2013, England's East Coast experienced the worst tidal surge in 60 years, a year on and farmers are still concerned not enough is being done.
Flooding and erosion stretched down the East Coast of England from Northumberland to Kent and along the North Coast of Wales. The Environment Agency reported that 1,400 properties were affected, with 18,000 people evacuated. Some 232 flood warnings and 71 severe flood warnings were issued.
We estimate that in excess of 2,000ha of farmland was underwater and many members contacted their regional teams.
The NFU was quick to issue advice to members on NFUonline, via its county advisers and in the regional newsletters.
The surge, and subsequent floods in the New Year, prompted the NFU to create its own Weather channel, which now includes an Adverse Weather and Flooding Toolbox. the Toolbox has links to live updates on flooding, weather, river and sea levels, learn more here.
FLASHBACK TO 2013:
- Coastal flooding warnings issued 5 Dec 2013
- Storm update advice for members 5 Dec 2013
- Storm update advice for East Anglian members 5 Dec 2013
- Storm update - flood alerts in place 6 Dec 2013
- Farmers brave worst storm surge in 60 years 16 Dec 2013
- BBC News Report - Lethal storm and tidal surge sees thousands out of homes
On Monday, (1 December), a group of farmers whose land fronts the Wash marked the first anniversary of the tidal surge with an urgent call to recognise the importance of farming and food production in the Fens.
The Wash Frontagers’ Group (WFG), consisting of 68 farmers and landowners based from Skegness in the north to Hunstanton in the East, are concerned that the state of more than 80 miles of sea defences needs addressing urgently.
Recent figures show that behind the seawall in the Fens Strategic Area (which includes parts of Cambridge and Norfolk) there are 365,261 hectares of farm land and most of that, more than 80 per cent, is at risk of flooding.
Stafford Proctor, chairman of the WFG, said: “The Wash sea defences protect some of our most productive farmland, which in turn supports a massive food production, processing and packing industry, thousands of jobs and vital infrastructure of huge economic importance.
“Last year’s tidal surge showed just how vulnerable our land, homes, businesses and the whole area is to sea water inundation. In Boston alone, 700 homes and businesses were affected. Just think what the effect of a massive inundation would have on the economy of the whole Fen region. It would be devastating.
“The Frontagers’ group will be meeting with local MPs, our county and district councils and government partners including the Environment Agency and Natural England, in the coming months to discuss how we can better protect the land, homes and businesses behind the sea defences. We’ll also be seeking a meeting with Defra Secretary of State, Liz Truss to emphasise how important we feel this project is.”
Pictured right at Vernatt’s Sluice, Surfleet Seas End where a plaque marks the height of the December 2013 tidal surge, are from left: Simeon Disley (Roythornes Solicitors and WFG member), Sutton Bridge farmer, Stafford Proctor, Nicky Curie (CLA East), Gavin Lane, from Tittleshall, Kings Lyn and Simon Fisher, NFU Holland (Lincs) county adviser.
The Wash Frontagers’ plan to raise the height of sea defences would include strategic and logistical input from the Environment Agency, Natural England, the Internal Drainage Boards surrounding the Wash and local and county councils.
NFU’s county adviser for south Lincolnshire, Simon Fisher, said: “Raising the sea defences is not just about protecting the future for farmland, it includes everything else in the area that makes life tick, such as people, communities, towns, industry, agriculture, environment, utilities, energy generation and transport infrastructure.
"If we look at the true value of local agriculture and its upward supply chain, it is £3billion plus and supports in excess of 60,000 jobs in the Fens. And farming is just one employer in our thriving Fenland communities.
"We need to protect the land and businesses surrounding the Wash and find the funding to raise the sea defences that so many people depend on. That’s why we need this partnership approach: everyone has to realise how important this is for all our futures.”
A recent BBC Radio 4 programme, 'Holding back the Sea' presented by David Shukman, BBC News’s science editor, featured the tidal surge. You can listen again here.