Tue, 28 Jan 2014
UK – Subsidy payment and farm management advice is being given to farmers after exceptional rainfall has left vast swathes of south and south west England under water.
Precipitation across the west of the British Isles has gone unabated into the New Year after a wet December left ground waterlogged.
Flooding to houses and farms has come from rivers and groundwater. Worst hit are Somerset and Wiltshire with heavy flooding also reported across the Solent and Thames areas.
Yesterday, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson visited Bridgwater to assess the damage, announcing a six week Somerset Levels flood action plan.
The flooding has severely affected rural businesses, road access and family homes, as well as pressuring the ecology, wildlife and agricultural output of vast tracts of land.
Farmers have been met with a host of challenges ranging from flooded crops to total loss of pasture as fields are made inaccessible and land is temporarily taken out of production.
The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and the National Farmers Union (NFU) have both provided guidance for producers instructing how best to manage floods and what the short term issues could be.
On prominent concern is the prospect of losing Single Farm Payments because of interruptions to the farming calendar.
Hedge cutting, soil protection reviews, Nitrate Vulnerable Zones and animal feeding and welfare are amongst a list of cross compliance features that could be jeopardised.
The RPA has reminded producers that those wishing to trim hedges should do so before 1 March and overgrazing and unsuitable supplementary feeding breaches do not apply if the breaches are necessary for animal welfare during extreme weather.
Failing to meet both agri-environment schemes (conservation and management work undertaken for a payment) and cross compliance rules (subsidised farming through working within restrictions) may not necessarily mean payments stop, on the grounds of force majeure and exceptional circumstances.
The Environment Agency, responsible for maintaining rivers and water courses, has received stern criticism from farmers and politicians.
Speaking in parliament last week, Somerset politician Ian Lidell-Grainger, a member of parliament for Bridgwater and West Somerset said the flooding disaster could have been avoided if rivers had been dredged.
The Tone and Parrett rivers used to be regularly dredged as part of flood prevention measures in his home district of Sedgmoor, Mr Lidell-Grainger explained.
“Nineteen years ago, the two main rivers that run through Sedgmoor were regularly dredged by the old river boards,” said Mr Lidell-Grainger. “Dredging was expensive, dirty and repetitive, but it was a job that everybody realised had to be done, because rivers on low-lying land silt up if they are not dredged. “
He said a further benefit of dredging is that silt accumulates to build up river banks.
“It is a double whammy,” said Mr Lidell-Grainger.
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond repeated the plea for a funding boost to maintain UK waterways.
He said more of the government purse should be used to prevent flooding and the extra £5 million for flood maintenance for the Environment Agency, ‘cannot make up for many years of reduction in the Environment Agency’s revenue budget.’
He described the £20 million spent annually on river maintenance as ‘not enough’ to do an effective job.
“Maintenance is a key issue for farmers as regular periodic works maintains conveyance and capacity within the river system,” said Mr Raymond. “This means floodwater can return to the river system quickly and reduces the extent and duration of any flooding.”
Short term financial relief is at hand, however.
The banking partnership NatWest/RBS has launched a £250 million UK Storm Business Fund to allow normal trading to resume.
The NFU's Meurig Raymond welcomed the interest free short term loans, although said the state, not private funding, is needed for prevention rather than cure.
The NFU and RPA have advised farmers to get in touch with Natural England officers and to go online for assistance.