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Viewpoint: Farmers should take action over flooding and river management

By David Porter

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NFUS North East environmental and land use committee chairman Patrick Sleigh offers up his thoughts on recent flooding -

Patrick Sleigh
Patrick Sleigh

Following on from Storm Babet across the UK and particularly around Angus in Scotland, we absolutely must address the causes now.

As a farmer, I am well aware of the vast damage caused, and losses incurred, when entire fields of root crops, particularly turnips, broccoli, carrots and potatoes were drowned in several feet of water.

That said, this is minor in comparison to all the urban and rural houses flooded with personal belongings lost forever and worse still the horrific situation where human lives were lost.

We are all very aware of Climate Change rhetoric, and equally we all understand that floods have happened for centuries across the globe.

Therefore, we need to better understand why our floods are so dramatic and so frequent nowadays.

Speaking as a farmer, I can tell you that we used to be permitted to cleanse watercourses at pinch points, where gravel and sand banks built up. This maintenance was simple and managed at times to minimize any damage to spawning fish etc.

The gravel materials were removed from the water, and often used to help repair roads and tracks.

This exercise was carried out by farmers using their own time, labour, fuel and machinery, at no cost to governments or local authorities. We are now heavily regulated by the Water Framework Directive (WFD), which in itself , is a perfectly sensible piece of legislation.

However, the management ( or might I suggest the mis-management) of WFD by our government officials appears to protect and value the livelihoods of fresh pearl water mussels and such like, at the expense of human beings. Farmers understand and respect the WFD legislation and simultaneously completely value nature and the preservation of land; fresh water and marine habitats.

Farmers also understand that WFD stipulates that the General Binding Rules within this legislation should be practiced at all times, unless there is a threat to human lives or properties. Which part of this WFD do our Governments and enforcement officers not comprehend?

When farmers were permitted to remove excess gravel and sand from the watercourses, this released much greater volume within the river channel, and therefore extra space for flooding water to occupy instead of overflowing into peoples' properties.

You will all recall the Somerset Floods of 2014, when flooded villages suffered severe devastation to properties and although there were no deaths people suffered emotional and mental health stress with livelihoods turned upside down , and the visiting Prince Charles (now our King) was quoted as saying:"It sometimes takes a jolly good disaster to sort things out".

The environmental agency were forced to allow sedimentation management / dredging of the main water courses to help relieve the pressure which was being put upon the flood banks. In Herefordshire a farmer was sent to prison for cleaning the River Lugg . That farmer ought to receive a written apology and presented with a medal for using his common sense and expertise to prevent excessive damage to peoples' property and livelihoods.

Politician's and councillors along with the environmental organisations can no longer be allowed to sit on their laurels hiding behind policy, much of which they clearly do not fully understand. Let's work together as communities; show them that we have a better, cheaper plan and drive positive change.

I urge all readers to speak to local politicians and councillors and tell them that their local farmers in the communities want to get back to maintaining the watercourses as they used to so capably do. Together we can help to mitigate these horrific situations by reducing the volume . power and frequency of flood waters.

We absolutely must react now and ensure this type of disaster is minimized going forward.

Any suffering resident or families should engage in this behaviour now and tackle your political representatives. As farmers, our voice is loud, but we do not have the voting power enjoyed by the urban population, so let's communicate and sort this out together. United we stand….divided we fall.

If residents think a local meeting with Councilors /Polititians would be beneficial --.email - patricksleigh@gmail.com or text 07711 838019.

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