Uplands farming and lowland floods


There is an opportunity in the uplands to help flood control lower down.

Few in the UK can be unaware of the flooding in many parts but dramatically in the North West. What follows are discussions of why and who to blame, mixed with theories which are often held passionately as the silver bullet to cure it in future. The truth is that the solutions are complex and a belief in a single solution indicates a lack of understanding of the natural environment.

No doubt, the dredging of water escape routes, of the building of “sacrifice” areas, building of new extra drains, and all the other construction possibilities are part of the defence for future urban protection.  The holding of water in the uplands in order to give slower release is the subject of what follows here.

Firstly, the farming of the area is the key to the management of the uplands, not the cause of lowland problems.  More specifically, if any change is not economic for the farmers involved, then either the taxpayers come up with the cash, or it will not happen at all.  So, finding a development which slows run-off and is financially attractive for farming to produce food is the only acceptable way forward that has a chance of working. There is a way to do this and it has already been done.

We already know that high organic matter soils hold water better.  To put figures on it; sand will hold its own weight of water, clay twice its own weight but composts will hold 5 to 16 times their own weight. We also know that bare soil (without an established crop on it) erodes easily.  So, enabling farmers to develop high organic matter soils and grow crops with a minimum of bare soil will improve matters in the lowlands.  We already know much about composting urban wastes and about forestry and other crops which can reduce erosion. Composting wastes can be very profitable but there is always an assumption that compost from wastes will be spread on food-producing land.  There is always a lot of paperwork, some of which may be a bit counter-productive.  Suppose a group of farmers were to get together with the Environment Agency and develop an area plan to maximise the volume and type of “wastes” which could be composted and spread and, instead of lots of individual applications to spread, a Code of Practice for food and forestry land?

Bill Butterworth

30 December 2015

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