Better water management is needed to increase resilience to drought and climate change, says a new report.
The Country Land and Business Association says the impact of climate change is clear and here to stay. The first few months of 2021 saw one of the driest Aprils on record – followed by one of the wettest Mays.
Some farms were submerged in water for over three months this past winter. This left many farmers unable to plant crops for an entire year. And the Met Office predicts that the risk of floods has increased by at least 20% and up to 90%.
The CLA’s Water Strategy: a vision for the water environment to 2030 ssays landowners could play a key role in improving the wider water environment by harnessing low-cost nature-based solutions.
Responsibility for flood defences is currently shared by the Environment Agency and lead local flood authorities (LLFAs), alongside landowners and farmers. But the CLA says the agency is often too slow to respond to essential maintenance.
This leaves rural communities vulnerable to serious flooding, says the CLA. Many landowners are already stepping-up to protect their local communities – but they are often uncertain whether they are allowed to undertake maintenance work.
Community supported organisations like internal drainage boards, are often far better placed than the Environment Agency to maintain main rivers. And the CLA argues these organisations should be allowed to take over responsibility for them.
Landowners have proven to be extremely successful at using their land to mitigate flood risks through Natural Flood Risk Management (NFM) projects.
These projects can involve creating wetlands and saltmarshes, or planting trees to stabilise riverbanks, slowing the flow of water and helping it to be absorbed, while also improving biodiversity, water quality, water availability and carbon storage.
To support landowners in their desire to protect local communities and mitigate flood risk, the government needs to have a proper policy, says the CLA. It wants the Environment Agency to make the rights and responsibilities of landowners clear to allow for effective and flexible flood defence work – helping to avoid any unnecessary flooding of rural properties.
Maintaining flood defence assets – £75m of funding per year for maintenance of existing flood defence assets, on top of the funding already earmarked for new flood defence assets, that would provide cost effective flood defences while improving the environment.
Catchment-focused flood management – government to allow for regional approaches and flexibility, including the effective use of Natural Flood Risk Management projects to transfer flood risk responsibilities to the best-placed body to do so.
CLA president Mark Bridgeman said: “Many of these land managers already play a crucial role in using their land to prevent local communities and businesses bearing the brunt of flood damage.
“Of course, this needs to come with the right government support and funding. But the solution to flood defences is sitting right on our doorstep at the fraction of the price of new infrastructure: natural flood risk management.”