Next steps for flood and coastal erosion risk management

First published: 09 December 2022

An image of Richard Bramley

NFU Environment Forum chair Richard Bramley recently spoke to the WEET (Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum) at an event called ‘Next steps for flood and coastal erosion risk management’. We take a look at the discussions.

Environmental resilience

NFU Environment Forum chair Richard Bramley outlined his own experience of extreme weather events in recent years on his farm.

In autumn 2019, devastating floods had a significant impact on the farm. After a period of drought in summer 2022, and with more flooding expected for winter 2022, Richard posed the question, “How are we adapting to this less predictable climate and more common weather extremes?”.

Furthermore, Richard stated that a huge change in approach is still needed in flood management.

Valuing food production

Land use is under huge demand, with less productive areas often viewed for other uses.

But Richard argued that the reverse is not considered. The most productive areas of land are not valued. These are often lower lying, highly productive and most at risk.

As an example of just how much value agriculture can bring to a region, the NFU's report ‘Delivering for Britain – Food and Farming in the Fens’, highlights the huge contribution Fenland farming makes to Britain today, delivering both for food and the environment.

Although it covers less than 4% of England’s farmed area, the Fens produces more than 7% of England’s total agricultural production, worth £1.23 billion.

The whole food chain, from farm to fork, employs 80,000 people – equivalent to the population of Peterborough – and generates more than £3 billion a year for the Fens’ economy.

Well-maintained flood defences are essential to protect the people, businesses and the 1,500 square miles of the Fens, much of which is below sea level. Agricultural land and its value needs to be recognised when making decisions.

As highlighted recently by former MI5 Director General, food is part of our national security and the UK should produce as much of its own food as possible. Read: Food is part of our national security says former MI5 Director General | NFUonline.com

Community

Richard highlighted the NFU’s work on developing a ‘rural flood resilience partnership’, with the EA (Environment Agency), ADA (Association of Drainage Authorities), Natural England, CLA (the Country Land and Business Association) and ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) within the Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy.

This will focus on helping farmers and growers adapt to a changing climate and look at how farming practices can enhance flood resilience in rural areas alongside sustainable food production.

Water for Food Group

Richard outlined the NFU’s participation in chairing the Water for Food Group.

The group is an independent forum of stakeholders and decision makers from the agricultural and horticultural sectors that aims to raise the profile of water for food production and ensure that it is considered an essential need.

The priority of the group is to provide a strong and coordinated voice to ensure that agriculture gets a fair share of the nation’s water resources. 

Recently the Water for Food Group set up a Task & Finish Group to look at the development of a long-term strategy for resilience to drought and water security risks.  The aim of this is to:

  1. Be prepared for a changing climate and the challenges it brings.
  2. Provide a framework that the Water Resources Regional Planning groups can adopt and any individual abstractor can adopt to aid drought resilience and long-term investment planning.

Nature-based solutions

Richard spoke about the importance of nature-based solutions and their potential inclusion into ELMs (Environmental Land Management schemes), which is still under development.

From soil management to more visible examples such as leaky dams, farms will be able to offer many opportunities to improve their environmental resilience.

However, the schemes are still under-developed, and the budget is too sparse to achieve any outcomes.

Richard explained that including flood management into ELMs could dilute these already stretched funds when the flood management budget previously came from elsewhere.

Mr Bramley stated that a possible solution is farmers being paid for nature-based solutions through private sources, an already active area for  carbon offsetting, but many other environmental outcomes are likely in future.

Furthermore, the NFU has concerns around some of the contracts members have been approached to sign, particularly regarding natural flood management and potential liability and length of agreements.

In the light of this, the NFU has developed five key principles in this arena:

  • Environmental markets must work alongside the domestic production of food, energy and fibre
  • Public policy and government initiatives must support the development of private markets
  • Environmental markets require clear rules and standards to allow farmers and buyers to participate with confidence
  • Markets should be accessible across a range of farm sizes, tenures and business structures
  • Farmers must be fairly rewarded for the delivery of environmental good

Farming Recovery Fund

Richard said that the NFU is still in discussions with Defra on the Farming Recovery Fund for any support or framework mechanism should there be an extreme weather event.

Currently, there is no budget or action plan in place. Our concern is that when an extreme weather event occurs, farmers are not yet supported.

“It is worrying we are going into winter without clarity on the situation.”

Richard explained that this winter there will be a combined challenge of communicating winter flood risk following a period of drought or prolonged dry weather.

New thinking and funding is definitely needed. Water management is critical for all, and the land use framework will no doubt cover this in depth.

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