The Boris Johnson government’s new environment secretary is suggesting the UK pay farmers to store water on their property to protect nearby communities from flooding.
The scheme is one of several options George Eustice suggested during an appearance at the National Farmers’ Union annual conference.
“With climate change we are getting more frequent extreme weather events,” he said. “This has been an incredibly wet winter, and we’ve had a wet winter and then two consecutive storms, Ciara and Dennis, and there’s nowhere for the water to go.”
In that light, “our new, independent agricultural system will give farmers a big part to play, by encouraging land management that supports flood management—releasing the pressure on lowland and urban areas by keeping water in the soil in upland catchments to slow the flow of water through the landscape,” he added. “Protecting homes and communities from flooding is a public good, and is one of the objectives set out in our Agriculture Bill.”
Earlier in the month, in what The Telegraph called a radical policy shift drawn up by environment ministry, the Johnson government declared flooding should be seen as inevitable and homeowners should no longer expect guaranteed flood protection, after Storm Dennis left parts of the country devastated. “Instead of spending millions on ‘limitlessly high walls’ and barriers, the government will help people rebuild their water-damaged homes or move away from flood-risk areas,” the paper said.
During his appearance at the NFU conference, Eustice defended Johnson’s failure to visit flood-hit communities, maintaining that the prime minister’s “presence on the ground would not have had made any difference to the response to the crisis,” the Hereford Times writes. “In a question-and-answer session after his speech, Mr. Eustice said investments made in flood defences had protected tens of thousands of homes in recent weeks.”
Eustice said the UK has spent £2.5 billion on flood defences, including “soft defences” upstream of urban areas. “But we do recognize there is more to do, because climate change is here to stay,” he told the farmers’ group. “We are seeing more of this extreme weather.”
With more than £4 billion in the budget over the next five years, a “big part of our focus is going to be nature-based solutions upstream,” including tree planting and use of natural flood plains and dams to protect lowland areas, he said.