STORMS AHEAD?

Robin Edwards, South East Regional Director

It’s been a mild and pleasant autumn so far, so it came as no surprise to see the recent weather warnings, with storms and heavy rain forecast for this weekend. Flooding can have a disastrous effect on agricultural land and rural businesses and pose a serious risk to our food security.  It is estimated that the 2013-14 winter floods cost the UK economy more than £1.25 billion and damaged crops totalling £7–19 million. 42,000 hectares of farmland in England were flooded.

Last week, I was at a series of meetings with CLA local committees across the south east, where we were discussing climate change and the actions that landowners and farmers can take to mitigate its effects.

What struck me, listening to the debates, was the degree to which farmers and landowners already take action, usually at their own cost, to reduce the risk of local flooding, from improving drainage to changing land management practices.

We discussed long term options such as planting new woodland to hold water upstream and reduce soil erosion, as well as short-term reactive responses, such as letting areas of low-lying land near rivers to flood, to protect urban areas. With changing weather patterns, many farmers and landowners are looking at options for on farm water storage, conserving rainfall for drier months.

There are also other more structural solutions which landowners and farmers can adopt to reduce flooding, such as the installation of sluice gates and pumps to control the flow of water in swollen rivers, concrete ‘sand bags’ to slow the flood waters or the creation of lakes and ditches to divert water from the main river when levels become dangerously high.

Across the country, farmers and landowners are prepared to take action to protect their land and local communities from the risk of flooding. But there should be some incentives to encourage them to invest and to spend the time and money necessary to go through frustrating planning processes in order to do so.

We need new tax relief on capital investments as well as income tax relief for all forms of flood defence work carried out by individuals and businesses.

The Government has introduced a new tax relief for businesses that contribute to flood defence schemes supported by the Environment Agency with grant-in-aid funding. However, this does not go far enough to incentivise the private capital investment which is also needed.

The impact of flooding on the rural economy cannot be understated. Surely it is time for the Government to consider granting tax relief for the vital flood defence work carried out on a relatively modest scale by farmers and landowners, as well as businesses involved in large-scale Environment Agency led schemes.