The key to solving the flooding issues? Answer – Farmers

This blog post originally appeared on Peter's 'Fresh from the Field' blog on 7th January 2016.


I want to start by saying how my heart goes out to all those who have had their homes flooded – it must be so utterly soul destroying. Listening to their desperate pleas, as they stand in dirty brown sludge surrounded by wrecked furniture, demanding that more money should be spent on better flood defences, is of course a totally justified and understandable demand.

However, and it is a very big “however” in my opinion.

Although these barricades to protect property and people, do of course have a role in flood defence, they are just that – defences. They play no role whatsoever in getting to the bottom of the problem, namely, stopping the floods from occurring in the first place.

Spending large amounts of the flood defence budget on diverting flood waters here and there, seems to me to be the ultimate false economy of going down the “sticking plaster solution”, even though electorally it gets politicians of the hook as they are seen to be doing something tangible.

With all indications from the climate change experts that extremes of weather are going to become far more frequent, surely it is time for a wholesale, radical rethink on this subject.

Writer and biologist Colin Tudge put it across extremely well at the Oxford Real Farming Conference when he said; “We can't control floods - or drought - unless we involve the farmers. The catchment area that picks up the rain is likely to be at least a thousand times larger than the area on which all that water is finally dumped.

So one inch of rain on the surrounding hills becomes 1000 inches – more than 80 feet -- in the river, or in the high street if the river can’t cope”.

That sums up the whole issue in one paragraph in my opinion. This is where the money should be spent Mr. Cameron – on the wider countryside. Cameron might well retort – “OK clever dick, how?”

Well by looking at in-field cultivations systems, alleviating compaction, increasing organic matter in soils, avoiding bare soil over-winter by planting cover crops, holding back water by damming ditches or using sluice gates, creating barriers such as Beetle Banks across sloping fields, pinpointing where water run-off regularly occurs and addressing this by targeting strategic tree planting, whilst also paying farmers to allow flooding on their land rather than sending water on to someone else further downstream.

Take just one of these examples – increasing organic matter in soil, something that all farmers can start to address straight away. Generally, particularly on arable farmland, soil organic matter is fairly impoverished and is often making up only around 1 to 3 % (at best) of the soil’s make-up.

A conservative estimate is that organic matter can hold four times its weight in water, so if a farmer can increase the organic matter in the soil by an additional 1.5%, they could reasonably be expected to hold in the region of another 225 tons of water per hectare, rather than watching it run away into the nearby ditch.

The GWCT’s Allerton project in Leicestershire is providing many answers to the problems that Government now face on this issue. Now is the time to make them part of future soil and water policy.

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Four times Flooded home and business

at 15:43 on 22/05/2016 by Carol Coutts

Completely agree Peter. I believe some Authorities are frightened of Landowners/Farmers though. Whilst I respect the work that farmers do, just some of them would rather flood property than their own fields, as was said to my face a few years ago, so I don't know how you would get all farmers on board.


at 18:14 on 11/02/2016 by Joan Hold

I am no scientist but could we not divert flood water underground I mean a long long way down by boring down to let the water escape?

Flooding solutions

at 18:12 on 13/01/2016 by Paul Rutter

Well said .I am pleased there are others out there who have a better understanding of the reasons for such serious flooding events than those in positions of influence. We will and should not stop flooding in the right places, it is after all a natural process. I have been watching with horror but also fascination at the water pouring out of the arable farmland around my home and washing tons of soil wash down the road into the local brook.The soil has the consistency of quick sand, even on the hills! I cannot imagine why the landowner seems content to watch his soil disappear. Well done to those in the agriculture sector for pursuing intensive and unsustainable farming practices. It looks like it is now coming back to haunt us and cost everyone money. Whatever happened to our farm ponds? Before you draw the wrong conclusion I should say that I am not an ignorant townie but a professional land manager of 40 years, conserving important landscapes for the nation and have seen this coming for some time. I have written to Rory Stewart M.P our Floods Minsiter to offer some solutions so shall watch with interest to see if our politicians are listening and willing to heed the wise voices of experience on how to manage our land better


at 17:26 on 12/01/2016 by R H Jones

Paris used to flood regularly at snow melt in the Alps until 4 huge flood basins were set up on the tributories - managing flow can be done .

flood prevention

at 14:48 on 12/01/2016 by Mike Hamblett

Intelligent post and sensible comments from Ray and Crispin. Except Crispin, this government's policy mainly favours the large land-owners over others. Hence cutting money for towns while subsidising grouse moor management. In view of the recent devastation this now seems completely unacceptable. Moor owners must rejoin the human race and co-operate with the need for floodwater rertention in the uplands, please!

Land management for flooding.

at 13:43 on 12/01/2016 by James

The problem of flooding has and is being exacerbated by bad planning building houses in areas that flood. Having said that something has got to be done to try and solve the problem. Over the years many farmers have been encouraged to drain their land and when they see the benefits they build up the banks to protect their crops which makes the problem worse down stream. To talk of compensating farmers on flood plains is ridiculous, it's called a flood plain for a good reason, the land is very fertile because it is a flood plain so if they don't want to grow grass which is what the land is best suited to they should put up with it. Fair enough, compensate where a scheme floods land that does not traditionally flood but even then the landowner has probably contributed to flooding down stream by land drainage schemes.


at 11:57 on 12/01/2016 by Crispin Auden

These are all worthwhile and sensible thoughts. However, solutions that apply to cultivated land (Ray's excellent idea for ploughing across slopes and, to a lesser extent, increasing organic content of soil) are not going to help on the hills where the problems start. The meteorologists tell us that rain is caused by clouds being forced to rise over higher ground into cooler air. Moorland and hill farms, which therefore make up the areas where the majority of the "problem" rainfall starts its journey to the sea, tend to have either peat (entirely organic matter) which is usually saturated through the winter, or very shallow soils over rock, incapable of holding much water however it is treated. So I suspect the solution lies in water storage systems - either permanent reservoirs or basins to accommodate flash floods. Either way, it will involve holding water back in rural areas which will affect rural livelihoods. For that there must be proper compensation. We are, after all, trying to accommodate more intense and more frequent rainfall than we have have ever seen before. If we are going to react to that, rather than adapt to it, it is going to alter the landscape and our ways of using it. This is not an easy one. Left in the hands of politicians, we will have solutions that provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number - urban populations. Our mission must be to ensure that the interests of the rural minorities are properly protected and/or compensated. That must be tempered by the realities of what needs to be achieved and where.


at 10:22 on 08/01/2016 by Ray

About time someone talking sence plant mor trees but also change ridge and furrows instaid of going up and down a hill makeing water run off unstoppable torrent. Make the run left to right holding the water in hundreds of furrows not one ditch at the bottom

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