Monday, 14 October 2013

400ha of Productive Farmland Destroyed

Following the recent launch of a relief fund to help raise money to fund the dredging of rivers on the Somerset Levels to help prevent a repeat of the 2012 flooding, many farmers are furious about the destruction of more than 400ha of productive farmland near Bridgwater.

The land has been acquired by the Environment Agency (EA) in a bid to create a huge new expanse of salt marsh and associated wetland habitat which will be managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. It is believed this project has cost in the order of £20m and it is this and the fact good quality farmland has been destroyed which is getting farmers angry.

The land is located on the Steart Peninsula, at the mouth of the River Parrett where it enters Bridgwater Bay. Much engineering work has taken place over the last 18 months or so in order to transform it from an area of farmland to an area of low lying lagoons and creeks. Once the sea wall is breached to allow flooding at high tide, it is anticipated that over a period of time the land will develop in to a huge new area of salt marsh.

"The EA claims it doesn't have the money to spend on river maintenance, and yet farmers on the Somerset Levels pay levies for that maintenance," said James Small, Somerset NFU chairman. "At the same time, they see vast sums being spent on destroying farmland for habitat creation at Steart.

"The EA has a not-inconsiderable budget, and one of its mission statements is to protect the natural and working environment," he added. "It all comes down to priorities, and if the government was serious about protecting farmland and businesses it would just take a tweak in policy to reflect what people really want on the ground."

However, the EA have explained that the Steart project is being delivered to meet the government’s responsibilities under the EU Habitats Directive and failure to create such new habitat to offset the loss from rising sea levels would trigger large fines by the EU. "Some people don't like the project, but we have a legal obligation to create this new habitat," he said.

So it seems it is EU law and the government’s need to comply with it that is creating paradoxical situation where the EA does not have enough money to carry out routine dredging of rivers on the Somerset levels and yet within 10 miles the same organisation is spending around £20m to flood otherwise productive farmland. All I can say is that I think farmers affected by flooding on the levels will find this situation extremely difficult to understand.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

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