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The Environment Agency says it supports farmers who want payment for flood water on their land – but not if the area is a... Agency acknowledges cost of flooded farmland

The Environment Agency says it supports farmers who want payment for flood water on their land – but not if the area is a natural floodplain.

Speaking at last month’s NFU annual conference in Birmingham, Environment Agency chairman Alan Lovell said using land for water storage was a big issue – and in some locations it was the best way to protect local communities from flooding.

Storing water on farmland was often provided at great cost, acknowledged Mr Lovell – and it was understandable that farmers wanted to be paid fairly doing so, with agreements put in place to enable it to run smoothly. But he also sounded a note of caution.

Mr Lovell said: “We will support where flood storage areas are seen to be appropriate as part of a flood risk management solution. But to be clear, we can’t use public flood money for areas that are already natural floodplains.”

Financial toll

Other routes – particularly through the government’s Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs) could support farmers – but the agency was unable to use government flood money for it, added Mr Lovell.

That said, Defra secretary Steve Barclay had recently asked the agency to look further at the idea – and how it could work with local people, local groups and internal drainage boards to see where the concept could be taken further forward.

Mr Lovell said: “I know many of you have experienced devastating flood and drought events, and I know it can take a huge financial and emotional toll upon you and your families – including some devastating long term mental health impacts.

“We will never forget that.  This winter has been appalling. I have been around the country a fair bit, including a 1600-acre farm in Lincolnshire, entirely underwater apart from the farm and farm buildings on a little island in the middle.”

Thanking farmers for supporting local communities during flooding, Mr Lovell said the three months of 2023 were the wettest since 2000 and the third wettest since 1871. Working with farmers was a vital part of the agency’s flood management work, he added.

£25m boost for flood management projects

Some 40 projects across the country will  receive £25m in government funding to reduce the risk of flooding.

The money was part of the government’s plan to increase flood resilience. Defra minister Robbie Moore said natural flood management – including wetland restoration, tree planting and other measures – would help improve catchments while slowing and storing water.

Mr Moore said: “It’s vital we use nature as an ally in our work to become ready for climate change, helping to restore the natural environment and protecting homes and businesses. That’s why we’re funding the biggest-ever investment in natural flood management.”

Work will focus on soil and land management – slowing and storing surface water runoff, while also reducing soil erosion and supporting agriculture. New woodland areas and hedgerows will support wetland complexes and the creation of new habitats.

Ponds and leaky barriers across watercourses will slow and store floodwater in the upper reaches of some catchment. Vegetation management and new woodland will intercept the flow of water as it runs downhill, reducing runoff and enabling water to be stored in the soil.

The announcement comes after a range of applications were submitted to the Environment Agency after the launch of the largest-ever investment in natural flood management schemes last September.

Reducing risk

Environment Agency chair Alan Lovell said: “It’s exciting to see such appetite for Natural Flood Management, recognising its value in providing not only benefits against flood risk but also wider support for nature recovery.

“The new funding builds on the government’s £15m natural flood management pilot programme which ran until 2021. The Environment Agency is managing the new £25m fund with work taking place until March 2027.”