Monday, 10 March 2014

Flood flight

Taken from the Landworker magazine, the voice of the rural worker

With vast swathes of our rural farmland and countryside, especially in the south west, currently lying abandoned underwater, with no end to the seemingly constant deluge in sight, there are many questions the government and environment agency need to answer.

Recent years have shown flooding is a real and frequent risk – and those in power must take responsibility and appropriate action. In West Yorkshire, local people have published a report showing how changes to the landscape could reduce the severity.

Understanding the Hebden Water Catchment is the result of a campaign – Ban the Burn – in which people living in Hebden Bridge expressed concerns that the destruction of blanket bog on a local upland moorland estate was helping cause flooding in the town. In recent years, Hebden Bridge has regularly flooded, resulting in some businesses permanently closing.

In 2012, Ban the Burn joined the RSPB in complaining to the European Commission (EC) at the decision of Natural England (NE) to drop plans to prosecute the Walshaw Moor Estate (WME) on 43 grounds of uncontested environmental damage, including converting a stream to a track.

Local businessman Richard Bannister owns WME. Under his 12-year stewardship the increased facilitation of grouse shooting has resulted in a significant removal of blanket peat bog. This forms over thousands of years and can, according to NE, ‘help reduce flood risk through slowing hydrological pathways.’

With the EC decision not expected till later this year, campaigners began mapping the 59 sq km circling Hebden Bridge. A number of local reservoirs are often close to capacity and therefore are of little benefit in preventing flooding.

Many field drains were found to be unmapped or in poor condition. In some cases, new housing had been built over old drainage routes. Establishing ponds could have wildlife benefits and also help cut run-off. Regularly moving cattle from one location to another can reduce the impact of erosion and increase the depth of soils.

Pathways and tracks are great at encouraging walkers but can become water channels in floods and the report suggests adapting them to guide floodwater away from properties. 1950s manmade drainage channels called grips also need monitoring, and in some cases removed, to reduce water flow.

The Forestry Commission ‘Woodlands for Water’ project is aiming to identify areas where creating new woodlands can mitigate flooding. Only five per cent of the Hebden Bridge water catchment is wooded and its residents have now drawn up a map showing potential areas for tree planting, which, if successful, would quadruple the figure to 20%.

The burning of peat bog to create a habitat for grouse breeding, feeding and raising chicks for the shooting season is not only a flooding concern. Burning releases carbon into the atmosphere and affects water quality, with the increased costs for treatment being added to water bills.

The report also offers some simple suggestions including ensuring drains are kept unblocked, flood wardens are recruited and old river structures are repaired

Understanding the Hebden Water Catchment is well worth reading and can be accessed online at

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