Water, Water Everywhere! By CRT Chairman Robin Page

What a wet winter. A winter in which much of the urban based media has forgotten the old saying “February Fill Dyke” and the dykes, ditches, rivers and brooks flowing over CRT land have certainly been full. People seem to forget that we are an island and islands can get great extremes of weather. Then there is “climate change”. There is such a lot of nonsense spoken and written about “climate change”. Climate has always changed and is changing – hence ocean-bed fossils at the top of the Cotswolds. In my lifetime I have known cycles of heat, cold, wet and dry. The reasons? I don’t know. All I do know is that our world is very fragile, as is the atmosphere that goes with it, and we should make sure that we act with care, consideration and above all, caution.Image

At Lark Rise, Pierrepont and Turnsatone there have been floods – but on the flood plains where they are supposed to be. When there is rain, the flood plains become flooded – then when the rain stops the water levels fall – it is as simple as that.

Tim Scott at Lark Rise did get his tractor bogged down at one stage and a neighbouring farmer had to come and pull him out with a huge tractor, but no harm was done. At Pierrepont the River Wey flooded almost up to the garden wall of the farmhouse, but again no harm was done. The big sigh of relief was for the new dairy and cowshed – on a hill and out of harm’s way. If the cows had still been in the old dairy I think we would have been worried about possible seepage into the river. In Norfolk, at Mayfields, Sarah has had to use more hay and supplementary feed than she would have liked but she has survived and she does not start lambing for several weeks. At Turnastone the first batch of lambing is almost over and has gone well and so Gareth and Madeleine are pleased and the flood plain of the River Dore has produced no problems.

Elsewhere of course there have been problems and controversy. I have spoken with several of the farmers in the Somerset Levels whose situations have been quite desperate. Some have had their houses and fields flooded and now their problems have been made worse as they are starting to lamb and calve. What makes the situation so bad is the fact that the worst of the floods could have been avoided if the rivers had been dredged responsibly and if some conservation bodies, the RSPB, Natural England and the Somerset Wildlife Trust had not been applying pressure on the Environment Agency to raise water levels. Research by CRT member, journalist Christopher Booker, and his colleague Richard North, reveals a very sorry state of affairs in which the interests of traditional farmers have been almost entirely ignored because of “landscape scale conservation”. Sorry, with Britain’s population rising at a Third World rate and one million acres being made available for house building – yes, one million acres – 4% of England’s agricultural land –“landscape scale conservation” is not an honest option. The CRT is convinced that even in times of short term political ineptitude the practical way forward is by mixing farming with conservation – production of food and wildlife together – the mosaic style of conservation carried out so successfully at Lark Rise Farm. If this is not achieved then sorry – over-population is Britain’s ticking time bomb and wildlife is doomed.

In the sorry saga of the Somerset Levels it is clear that some of the worst decisions were made by the Labour “floods minister” Elliot Morley in 2005; he was the hobby birdwatcher who gave up Parliament for prison after seriously fiddling his expenses. Of course it is also a sorry fact that in massive flood wildlife is hit too – foxes, badgers, moles, voles, bumble bees and many more.

The East Anglian Fens had as much rainfall as the Somerset Levels but their drainage system that started seriously in 1650, worked – with tidal gates, gravity outfalls and dredging. The Somerset Levels, with an equally long history of drainage, without tidal gates and gravity outfalls and after stopping dredging, did not work. The Levels were also hugely influenced by massive development at Bridgewater and Taunton. Surface water from these held up water flowing away from the levels, causing it to “back-up”.

It is a case of horses for course. In areas of long standing fen-type agriculture dredging and draining is needed. In lowland areas such as Lark Rise Farm we certainly do not want dredging. The brook spilling over its flood plain slows the flow and actually prevents flooding in residential areas downstream – in this case Cambridge. The classic case of too much dredging and drainage causing rainfall to flush off the land and flood houses is the Yorkshire Ouse above York, resulting in serious flooding in York. Sadly parts of York have again been flooded several times over recent months.

Unfortunately the one big thing missing from sad and soggy Britain over recent years has been common sense, as usual. 

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