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A better approach to river management is needed to reduce the risk of flooded farmland, say landowners. Why more focus is needed to help reduce flood-risk from rivers

A better approach to river management is needed to reduce the risk of flooded farmland, say landowners.

Climate change and the expanding built environment is putting greater pressure on rivers and catchments, warn the Association of Drainage Authorities and the Country Land and Business Association.

Flooding is increasingly frequent and careful river management is crucial, say the two organisations. But long-term underinvestment in the maintenance of many lowland rivers is reducing their capacity to convey the volumes of water needed.”

Lack of investment

ADA and the CLA hosted an online summit on 24 June  called Keeping our Rivers Flowing. More than 150 delegates discussed the consequences of underinvestment and solutions for better managing water catchments from source to sea.

Senior Defra and Environment Agency officials heard local land managers and internal drainage boards representatives voice their frustration that lowland rivers are less able to evacuate flood water from farmland, homes and businesses.

Concern was also voiced about the environmental consequences on water quality of vegetation-choked rivers unable able to transfer enough water naturally from one area to another in times of drought.

The summit also looked beyond the problems. Several speakers highlighted how a different strategic approach and working in local partnerships can help resolve tensions and enable better river management.

ADA chairman and Lincolnshire farmer Robert Caudwell said: “People are ready and willing to work together locally to find ways to help our rivers flow, but they feel restrained by a lack of government support on river maintenance. We need to spend more on maintenance to save money spent on flood response and recovery.”

The CLA reinforced its desire for landowners to play a bigger part in improving water management through local solutions at comparatively low cost. It follows the recent publication of the CLA policy document called A Vision for Water to 2030.

Important role

CLA policy director Judicaelle Hammond said: “Landowners play an important role protecting downstream communities from flooding, often saving millions of pounds’ worth of damage, but this comes at the expense of their own land.

“It is critical that the Environment Agency works with the rural community to protect the local river environment and where they can’t, ensures the right body is in place to do so. In the meantime, CLA members are ready to start thinking outside the box.”

Ideas included looking at how improving soil health can reduce flood risk. Locally-driven partnerships could work and natural flood risk management projects should be considered, said Ms Hammond.

Future spending

The summit heard about the potential for the further use of innovative, environmentally friendly river maintenance techniques – including natural measures to slow the flow of water in upper catchments.

There was a strong desire to bring water management to the fore in future consideration of the Environment Land Management (ELM) scheme, and a recognition that soil management must play a part in reducing river silt and nutrient loads.

Defra is due to submit proposals to HM Treasury on future investment needed for flood and coastal erosion risk management ahead of this autumn’s spending review. Both ADA and the CLA say this should prioritise routine river management.

The organisations say it is vital that both rivers and any associated floodwater are managed effectively to keep water flowing – and local partnerships should collaborate equitably in the work.