Urgent action needed to deal with flooding and improve land management in a rapidly changing climate

7 January 2016

The Green Party believes that the measures being taken to alleviate flood damage are often counter-productive, putting emphasis on treatment of symptoms rather than addressing the systemic causes of flooding.

In a recent article in The Guardian [1], George Monbiot highlighted many of the problems associated with the Government’s current response to the exceptional storms in Cumbria. These include:

  • the failure to understand the warning signs of increasing frequency of heavy storms;
  • ignoring evidence from hydrological studies in the upper Severn catchment, and many previous studies, of the need for water management at a catchment scale;
  • disregarding the evidence that dredging does not solve the problem but makes it worse [2];
  • supporting the large farmer pressure groups (NFU) and key agencies (National Trust and some AONBs) responsible for the management of uplands through the maintenance of treeless uplands and high stocking rates;
  • the channelling of rivers; and
  • a focus on delivering ‘sound bites’ in flooded rural and urban areas.

Rory Stewart’s performance in Cumbria has been little better than Owen Paterson’s in Somerset in 2014, where his poor level of understanding and failure to consult local people effectively cost him his job.

The recent changes in climate and weather systems demand a reappraisal of our current management of upland areas. We need a reassessment of all the historical and current evidence and a resolution to engage local people in arriving at appropriate strategies and practices for the more sustainable management of water and land at catchment scale.

We have known for many years that more careful tree planting, shelter belt management and appropriate animal numbers in upper catchments will drastically improve water infiltration rates in those catchments, as George Monbiot notes. However, what he did not emphasise was that achieving this result in the upper Severn catchment was begun by a small group of farmers, initially without external assistance, and that it has been maintained though a strong local network which has shown the power of social learning [3]. This finding has been reinforced by several key European research projects under the European Water Framework Directive.

Dr David Gibbon, Food & Farming spokesperson for South Shropshire Green Party (SSGP), writes:  “The Green Party is very disappointed to see the Government’s inadequate response to the present stormy weather and flooding events, as it does not address the fundamental causes which include insufficient tree cover, the maintenance of excessive numbers of livestock in many upper watershed areas, and inappropriate management of downstream rivers.

“The SSGP has contacted the Minister, Rory Stewart, and asked for a well-funded river basin management plan which should include measures that have proven flood risk reduction outcomes.  This is now very urgent indeed – not least given our newly-agreed climate change commitments – and is needed on the Cumbrian rivers, the Ouse in Yorkshire and the Severn in our own area.  If we do not do this we will see, yet again, the same deeply upsetting news stories about floods in the next five years."

 

NOTES

1. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/07/hide-evidence-storm-desmond-floods-paris-talks

2. River Dredging and Flood Defence, Environment Agency, 2014

3. http://sites.google.com/site/slimsociallearningforiwm/