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Dales farmers primed to build region’s flood defences

An example of natural flood management: creating grass strips next to watercourses can provide a barrier that helps restrict the flow of storm water
An example of natural flood management: creating grass strips next to watercourses can provide a barrier that helps restrict the flow of storm water

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Bainbridge, 2 October, 2017

A practical guidebook for farmers and land managers on natural flood management measures – which is the first of its kind, and could be adopted nationwide – has been published by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA).

The free guide – a response to the devastation wreaked by Storm Desmond in December 2015 – sets out how Dales farmers can both protect their land from flood damage and contribute to the region’s flood defence system.

It has been put together by the YDNPA, Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust and North Yorkshire County Council, with support from the Environment Agency and Natural England.

“Farmers saw the severe impact of flooding on cities such as Carlisle, Leeds and York and asked how they could help,” said the YDNPA’s Senior Farm Conservation officer, Helen Keep.

“If, after heavy rainfall, we can slow the flow of rivers that rise within the Yorkshire Dales through natural flood management measures, then a number of our region’s towns and cities will be better protected. Our aim is for every farmer and land manager in the Yorkshire Dales National Park to have a copy of the guide.

“Some of the measures present a clear ‘win-win’ situation, benefitting both flood defences and agricultural production.  Research in Bishopdale, for instance, has shown that soil compaction is more widespread than previously thought. Reducing soil compaction would both decrease run off and improve grass and root growth.

“Other measures may need financial support to make them worthwhile.  Grants may be available to fund some of the measures – so, please get in touch.  In the longer term, we hope that managing land to reduce flooding will become a new source of income for farmers – helping to make their businesses more robust.”

Natural flood management aims to reduce the downstream maximum water height of a flood.  In the guide, the various measures that can be taken to achieve this have been grouped into three levels of intervention, according to their set up and maintenance costs:

  • Level 1 measures such as cross drains in farm tracks and planting hedgerows are low cost and easy to install, yet very effective. They require minimum or no consultation with authorities such as the YDNPA or the Environment Agency.
  • Level 2 measures such as creating an earth bund or a ‘leaky dam’ may require consent and may need contractors’ help to install them.  
  • Level 3 measures such as restoring the connection between a river and its floodplain need detailed planning and design and are usually high cost.

Rita Mercer of the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust said: “Natural flood management structures do not significantly impact on farming, are typically small in size, and can be considered to be an extension to the farm’s land drainage system.  It is a network of these structures, rather than individual features, which can make a difference.  Research carried out by Leeds University in Coverdale indicated that a combination of simple measures over 10% of the catchment area could help slow down the flow of water during high rainfall events by up to 12%. That would be a significant positive effect.”

North Yorkshire County Councillor Don Mackenzie, Executive Member for Access, said: “We are pleased to have worked with our partners to compile this handbook and are delighted that farmers want to embrace these techniques. Efforts to slow the flow of water after heavy rainfall are vital, and the handbook includes practical suggestions that are relatively simple but can make a real difference.”

Ian McDonell, Senior Environment Officer – Agriculture, at the Environment Agency, said: “We are very pleased to be involved in this multi-agency initiative. The guidance offered on natural flood management in the handbook could prove an invaluable source of information for farmers and land managers.

“As a society we need to consider all options for tackling the threat from flooding and some of the actions may help address local issues such as surface water runoff or localised flooding. The importance of natural flood management is becoming increasingly recognised and this handbook helps to put Yorkshire at the forefront of that thinking.”

Natural England’s Area Manager for the Dales, Adelle Rowe, said: “The team at Natural England are really pleased with how well received this new Natural Flood Management Handbook has been. It’s a great way for us to support people to find clear advice from us and our partners and enable them to manage their land for the best outcomes. By providing solutions for farmers through schemes and other initiatives we’re helping alleviate the impacts of flooding and supporting them to create a healthy natural environment for everyone who works and lives in the Dales and beyond.”

Contact Helen Keep by email Helen.Keep@yorkshiredales.org.uk or by phone 01756 751611.

See the handbook here: http://www.yorkshiredales.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/1010991/11301_flood_management_guide_WEBx.pdf

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