UK farmers hailed as heroes as they use fields to stop UK towns and cities flooding | UK | News

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UK farmers hailed as heroes as they use fields to stop UK towns and cities flooding | UK | News

Hundreds of farmers have let their land flood to protect Britain’s villages and cities.

Britain is enduring its wettest winter in 130 years as large parts of the country are submerged in water.

Communities were beginning to recover from Storm Gerrit and Storm Babet when Storm Henk hit last week.

Martin Lines, chief executive of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, said: “I know farmers right now who have acres of their land under water and farmers’ floodplains have become an absolute necessity in slowing the flow from reaching nearby towns and villages.

“These fields have evolved to cope with flooding. And what’s under water in winter, come summer, is rich in flowers for pollinators and producing forage and hay for livestock.”

Climate change has made extreme weather events such as floods more frequent in the UK.

Landowners are looking for nature-based solutions to help tackle the issue and mitigate against the worst impacts.

Tim Field, of the North East Cotswold Farmer Cluster, said: “With healthy soils that are high in carbon, a field acts like a sponge.
“We can use sustainable farming practices to increase soil health and carbon, whilst still producing food.

“The science underpins new markets for nature-based solutions for flood prevention, drought resilience and carbon capture. We believe the beneficiaries of this flood mitigation (eg flood insurers, infrastructure and businesses) should pay for this benefit – and not pass it on to the cost of food production – as it should help offset the need for expensive flood defences, maintenance or damages.”

The government’s Environment Land Management scheme offers incentives to farmers to boost sustainable practices.
Professor Nicola Cannon from the Royal Agricultural University said: « I think many farmers are thinking very carefully about making their farms more resilient. »
« We’re seeing more freak weather events, including high levels of rainfall causing flooding. » She explained farmers were considering « how they manage their land » to minimise risk but also the « opportunities » to help communities downstream.

Meanwhile heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding has affected growers around the country, including in Lincolnshire, East Anglia, Cornwall and Scotland.

One of the biggest growers of winter vegetables, TH Clements, based near Boston in Lincolnshire, reported that there have only had a handful of dry days since October which has made harvesting difficult.

TH Clements commercial director John Moulding said: “This is the worst flooding we have had this century and we have lost about 20% of our total winter crops including sprouts, cabbages, cauliflower and leeks.

“It’s been a very tough time for us for more than three months both physically and financially in having to pull the vegetables out of the muddy fields.

“We have literally had to race against the clock to get the vegetables pulled out of the ground to stop them from rotting.”

Gloucestershire farmer Debbie Wilkins lets a third of her land flood to protect the city downstream.

She owns Norton Court Farm near Gloucester, and receives a government grant to set aside 300 acres as a floodplain.

Debbie’s land has flooded three times this winter, including recently which has caused problems for roads and properties.

She said: “I think the frequency of floods is increasing. As a child, I remember every four or five years the fields would flood but now it’s two or three times a year.”

Debbie, 51, does not receive money for taking water onto her floodplain but some of her fields benefit from government grants because of their species diversity.

She said: “Because my fields flood, we’ve always farmed them in a low intensity way to make them more resilient. I could try to put arable crops or grow more high intensity grass. If it didn’t flood, it would give me more financial rewards, but because they flood I try to farm in a more resilient way.

“We’ve got other fields that are slightly higher that don’t flood so often but are beginning to flood more now so I’m converting those from arable into grass that can cope with flooding.”

Dairy farmer Mandy Stoker has told how she no longer grows crops because of the risk of flood waters killing her produce.
The environmental scientists, 60, from North Shropshire, used to grow wheat and maize but switched fully to cattle four years ago.
She said: “We’re on a floodplain. We’re always going to flood. We farm in a way that lives with that. We don’t put crops on there anymore because of the risk of those crops failing. They’ve been washed away or because flood water stays so long it kills them. We don’t do crops. It’s just too much of a risk.
“We have cattle now. We do dairy farming. I’ve always had cattle but we used to grow maize, wheat and rape. We haven’t done that for the last four or five years.”
Mandy told how a defensive mound called an argae, built to protect villages along the River Severn, frequently spills over with flood water.
She said:”It works quite well. If water goes over the top, it’s a bad flood. We’ve had four major floods since 2020. Before that, it was in 2001 when it actually went over the top of that argae.
“There was a long gap but now it’s once or even twice a year. This time, unusually, it went right to the top and started to trickle over, and then stopped.”

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