Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Sussex Wildlife Trust urges MPs in the County to make the case to work with nature rather than fight against it in a forthcoming parliamentary debate on flooding, on 3rd March.

There is a parliamentary debate on flood risk preceded by a parliamentary briefing chaired by Richard Benyon MP on 3rd March.  It is important that all our Sussex MPs go there and make a strong case for working with nature to improve our resilience to a changing climate.  We are writing to all our MPs to encourage them to do so.  A little extra lobbying from readers of this article would also help!

The impacts of the recent floods mean that there has never been a stronger incentive to re-think our relationship with water, and how we use and manage urban and rural land.  The floods have tended to stimulate knee-jerk reactions in some but the answer to reduced flood risk is not simple.  Indeed it maybe that it is the simplistic answers of the past that have caused much of the problem.

Key measures to reduce flood risk involve looking at the whole catchment, rather than focusing on one perceived solution, such as dredging.  Whilst sensitive dredging, as part of a package of measures, can help in some circumstances, it can also be counter-productive; adding to flood risk downstream, risking damage to river banks, reducing water quality and damaging wildlife habitats.  Imagining that dredging is the soul solution is to offer cruel false hope to those who suffered in the floods.

Water issues need to be addressed in a holistic way, across whole river catchments with nature is a major, cost-efficient ally in helping us manage flood risk.  This is the message in a recent CIWEM report and on The Wildlife Trusts web page.  The management of our landscape needs a fundamental shift in thinking towards the large scale restoration and creation of networks of healthy habitats that will increase our resilience to extreme weather events.

Working with nature, not against it, is the key.

Whole catchment measures should involve managing land so it can more effectively absorb and store rainwater.  This can be done by encouraging tree growth in river headwaters, by developing buffer strips of natural vegetation along watercourses and by restoring grasslands to help soak up water.

More places should be created where water can be held back and stored – washlands of natural wetland habitats which absorb water in peak times and slowly release it between rainstorms.

We should manage our rivers themselves so they function more naturally.  Instead of treating them as pipes through which we attempt to force water quickly out to sea, we should allow room for rivers to take their natural course.  River water would then be slowed down so peaks do not build up quickly and flood-waters do not rush as quickly on to the next pinch-point.

These approaches would mean that some areas, flood plains, would be encouraged to act as flood plains – absorbing flood waters that would otherwise damage people’s houses and inundate valuable areas for food production.

Key to all of this, however, is the provision of financial mechanisms to enable this to happen.  Allowing room for flood water involves working with farmers on farmed land.  By helping to manage flood water, farmers are providing an enormous and cost-effective public service in reducing flood risk and should be paid handsomely for it.  Even a highly lucrative package of incentives to farmers would be far less costly to the public purse than allowing our towns and cities to flood.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Roads – back to the same old future

With its draft National Policy Statement on roads and rail, the Government seems to be lurching back to a road building approach, already out of date in the 1990’s when it last raised its head. 

We are told that road building is needed as an engine for growth, that there will be almost a 40% increase in traffic, and that we must tarmac over the countryside in order to stay competitive.  Forgotten are all the lessons about how more roads generate more traffic, increase congestion by moving it from one place to another, damage the economy through reliance on an insecure resource, not to mention all the ecological, social and climate change issues.

The consultation, needing responses by 26th Feb, is carefully framed to steer people away from the important questions, guiding you towards making comments on how to limit the damage from decisions that seem to have already been made.  Nowhere is this more outrageous than in the approach to climate change.  The statement simply takes the impact of new road development on climate change out of the process altogether.  Thus one of the most damaging aspects of transport strategy is specifically removed from consideration.  The justification given is that other Government policies will 'offset' the increase in carbon from new roads.  Given that the country has to deliver 80% reduction in greenhouse emissions (on 1990 levels) by 2050, what area of economic activity is going to deliver far more than 80% reduction in order to offset the environmental failure of road travel?  

The disconnect in government at present seems incredible.  At a time when extreme weather events, driven by climate change, are hitting the country more and more frequently, government still seems immersed in second level issues like road building rather than addressing the real issues affecting people and their environment.

The consultation on the National Road and Rail Networks National Policy Statement ends on 26 Feb (next Wednesday) and I would encourage people to take a look and express their views.  The whole philosophy behind this document is really bad news for the environment and will allow a massive increase in roadbuilding while virtually removing our ability to challenge any new proposals.  Please see the Campaign for Better Transport's web site and use the CBT's form to send in an objection - it only takes a minute to do.  Also, a letter can be sent via the CPRE's website.  Both websites have pre-drafted words for you to use which you can alter as you see fit if you want to.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Flooding - Working with nature not against it.

The Wildlife Trusts around the country have, for many years, been promoting an approach to flood risk management that works with nature rather than fights against it.  For our most recent 5-point plan follow this link to the Wildlife Trusts web site.  Further to this the "Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management", the leading chartered professional body covering water and environmental management, recently published this report as a reality check on floods and dredging.  The report outlines how  widespread dredging could make flooding in some communities worse in future- not better. It concludes that changes in land management should be central to the  flood risk management strategies of the future.  

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

An antidote to the dumbed-down flooding v dredging squabble

For those of you who are fed up with the unedifying media frenzy and political bickering, which seem to be the only response some can manage when faced with the wettest period on record, perhaps you’ll be interested in this rather more sensible article from “The River Management Blog".