Cause and effect – can the Channel Management Handbook help break the vicious cycle of flooding in modern UK farming?

Unda’s Flo Harris talks about the effects of modern farming techniques on flood risk, and how flooding in turn can impact on farming productivity in the UK. Can the Channel Management Handbook help initiate the changes required?

Agriculture and flooding:

Over the last 50 years there has been increasing pressure on agriculture to deliver quantity and quality of produce, which has led to more intensive way of land management. The land management practises adopted concentrate on getting the most out of the land in terms of productivity.

Modern machinery and cultivation methods used have reduced the infiltration capacity of soil, meaning that to maintain drainage, farmers must remove excess water from farmland. Climate change predictions suggest that rainfall is going to become more extreme in years to come, therefore new management techniques, including grazing management, needs to be considered to reduce the amount of damage caused to, and by,  agricultural practises.

Management of land:

Farmers are responsible taking reasonable measures to prevent their farmland from flooding; keeping ditches clear and farming the land correctly. The receive assistance from central government agencies such as the EA, and from Local Authorities.

Channel Management Handbook:

A new handbook promoting good practice for channel management has been developed. The handbook brings together over 10 years worth research and practice. It aims to help chose when and how to carry out channel management for flood risk and land drainage purposes.

The Handbook has been developed through the Joint Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management R&D Programme by a team of experts lead by Royal HaskoningDHV. The handbook is a strategic, high-level guide to assist land managers to manage watercourse channels to meet the objectives of flood risk management and land drainage. The specific aims are to:

  1. Present the good principles of channel management alongside important scientific concepts so a channel manager can make informed decisions;
  2. Develop a process which ensures good channel management and helps to record the evidence used in channel management decisions.

The handbook has been written and structured with flood risk management authorities in mind. Other organisations with a role in watercourse management as well as land owners adjacent to watercourses will also find the handbook useful.

Responding to the Handbook, Environment Agency Project Executive Nev White, says “It provides a really useful framework for thinking through if and when channel management work is required. I hope that the Handbook will encourage the right conversations between the right people and ensure that decisions regarding channel management are recorded and well evidenced”.

What does the Handbook include?

The Handbook consists of three core parts:

  1. The Handbook provides the necessary scientific fundamental concepts to help a practitioner to understand the context within which a channel must be managed. It also details a process to follow when planning to undertake channel management work.
  2. Decision-checklist – an interactive tool which takes practitioners through the decision process, linking to the appropriate sections of the Handbook for guidance at each stage. The checklist also acts as a template for recording decisions and the supporting evidence considered.
  3. Supporting technical report provides further details on the types of measures and their suitability for channel management once the decision to intervene has been made.

How will the Handbook help?

The Handbook will provide you with a:

  • Consistent and accepted view of what is good channel management practice;
  • Streamlined process which develops an evidence-base to support the decision to intervene (or not);
  • Process which will encourage the right conversations between the necessary people. E.g. flood risk, fisheries, biodiversity and geomorphology experts;
  • Comprehensive introduction to channel and catchment management for team members and practitioner new to their position.

How can I access it?

The handbook and supporting tools can be downloaded from the EA/Defra Joint Programme FCERM R&D Programme web pages.

Applying for help through schemes:

It’s up to farmers, landowners and their staff to keep up-to-date and educated with schemed and projects, so they can apply and gain from them.

How flooding has affected agriculture:

Agriculture is very venerable to natural changes, and increased groundwater can dramatically affect the development of crops and therefore the ultimate production. In 2007, unexpected summer floods are thought to have caused £50million of damage to farmers covering 42,000 ha of farmland across the UK (ADAS 2007).

Flooding can severely effect farmers at times of flooding, though loss of livestock, crops and access. They are often totally reliant on these aspects of the business, and can suffer significant financial loss though business interruption.

The effects of flooding can impact farmers long after flood waters have receded. Potato crops can be blighted (a fungus like organism which can spread rapidly and is often caused by inundation of crops), and disease affecting livestock can spread more easily and more quickly over a wider area when flooding occurs.

Actions to prevent flooding affecting the future of agriculture:

Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) is an environmental government scheme that encourages environmental management of land for farmers to gain funding. Handbook 4: agreement start dates from 1 January 2013 to 1 December 2014,  2.11 targets farmers to adapt their practices for changes in climate conditions, this could be used alongside other environmental targets to reduce the risk of flooding and to gain funding.

DEFRA, Reducing Threats of flooding and coastal change and Environment: On the 18th of March 2015, DEFRA advised that 47 of the new government schemes, and £140million are being bought forward to start the six year flood protection project. The six year programme aims to reduce the risk of flooding by 5% across the county “to protect thousands more homes and businesses sooner than originally planned, as part of our long-term economic plan” says Elizabeth Truss.

Farming Recovery Fund: DEFRA have set up a scheme, Farming Recovery Fund Phase 2 that closed on the 27th of June 2014, where farmers could apply for funding to restore agricultural land after flooding. The funding is provided through Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE), which is financed by European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).

Farms have been offered between £500-£35,000 to regain their productivity after flooding damage since the 1st December 2013. Diversified farms have been excluded from this funding, and to qualify, the farm business must contribute significantly to the household income of the family. These schemes are essential for farmers to regain stability after extreme weather, and due to extreme weather becoming more common, they are increasingly important.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) which is the voice of British farming, are supporting farmers in their battle with flooding by  campaigning to ensure that agriculture is properly valued in flood risk management and rural flooding is effectively managed. Find out more about Flood Risk Assessment.