Flood Risk Management Strategy

Today Emma Howard Boyd, Environment Agency Chair, will be launching the start of the consultation on the draft national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy for England. The draft strategy marks the culmination of engagement with over 90 organisations. The Secretary of State for Defra in his climate change speech last year recognised that we need to “explore new philosophies around flood and coast management”.

The draft strategy begins that process. The consultation is an opportunity to hear your views on those new philosophies and the level of ambition within the draft strategy.

The draft strategy sets out a vision for “a nation ready for, and resilient to, flooding and coastal change – today, tomorrow and to the year 2100.” It has three ambitions:

  • Climate resilient places;
  • Today’s growth and infrastructure to be resilient in tomorrow’s climate; and
  • A nation of climate champions, able to adapt to flooding and coastal change through innovation.

The consultation runs from today 9th May for eight weeks until the 4th July and can be found here.

Sometimes the cost is too high – refusing a grant

Refusing money
Sometimes the cost is too high

I have just done something rather unusual for a charity. I have turned down the offer of a £23,766 grant.

Why would I do that? Firstly because the grant awarding body was not prepared to pay the cost of the work required. Secondly because they would not contribute to our corporate overheads (Full Cost Recovery). Thirdly because the contractual conditions were such as to expose a small charity to unacceptable risk.

For months now we have been working in partnership with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and The Wild Trout Trust to develop a bid to the Water Environment Grant (I won’t link there because you really do not want to know about it!). We have spent days, probably weeks, working out the finest detail of the scheme in order to satisfy the somewhat onerous requirements of the submission. Anyone familiar with the Rural PaymentsAgency (who ultimately ‘own’ this fund), or who has heard tales from farmers of the inefficiency, nitpicking and intransigence of RPA, may know how difficult a process it has been. Anyway, we put together our partnership project valued at ca. £170,000 and sent it off. Detailed queries were responded to and we waited, then waited, then waited some more. Indeed, we waited over three months after the decisions were expected and were delighted when we got an offer. Until we opened the letter that is, when we found that we had been offered only £100,000 between us. One partner, us, were offered only 35% of our bid with a requirement to deliver 75% of the required outputs!

To say that I am outraged, annoyed and frustrated is being polite. VERY polite!

So why am I upset?

Part, £250, of our bid was rejected because we did not have competitive quotations for refreshments for volunteers.

Part, £8,500, was intended to provide for social media and other advertising, promotion to aid volunteer recruitment and recognise the contribution of the funder. ZIP. We don’t need to do this apparently ,even though volunteers were core to our bid and they WERE prepared to pay for brand development (but where would we then use the brand?)!

Some of the contractual terms were outrageous:

  1. You will accept unlimited liability in perpetuity for your work
  2. If we run out of money we do not have to pay you
  3. You must do exactly what you said you would and any variation, even in an emergency, needs approval in advance.

Would you accept such an offer? Do these people have any understanding of the impact of their decisions on small charities? Who hold them to account for the consequences of their action?

I would like to pay tribute to the several colleagues in YWT, WTT and the EA who helped us through a challenging time. I won’t name them because this is my rant not theirs, they know who they are and they know how much I value their help.

The only upside – we now have some well developed projects in respect of which we can apply for funding elsewhere.

Mitigating the impact of riverside works by the Environment Agency

Lothersdale 2

Sometimes it is necessary for the Environment Agency to do works along our riverbanks to reduce the risk of future flooding. These can include removing poorly rooted trees (so they do not subsequently wash downriver and block bridges), removing vegetation from flood banks (to enable proper maintenance and to reduce the potential for breaching the floodbank) and so on.

These works have caused problems in the past and, whilst things are improving, we believe that there is room for further improvement in how the EA mitigates for any adverse effect of essential maintenance. The report available via this link illustrates some of the mitigation already being undertaken, and they should be congratulated for this work. However, I have to comment that “Retention of occasional overhanging willow for fish cover” or “Retention of cover for fish” does not in my opinion count as mitigation.

Mitigation is a positive action designed to reduce the effects of some other potentially detrimental action. It is not doing nothing somewhere else.

We share The Wild Trout Trust’s concern that insufficient work is being undertaken to mitigate the local effects of these works, and will be talking with the EA about how to make further improvements in their operations.

Trees, trees and yet more trees…

No, this is not a picture of the River Aire in midsummer, but at last weeks meeting of our Trustees, I did make a very high level reference to the millions of trees likely to be planted in the Aire valley in coming years. This will happen as a consequence of the recent announcement of Northern Forest (of which White Rose Forest is part and which ART supports as a formal partner), YWS’ commitment to plant a million trees, Leeds City Region’s similar commitment to increase the tree cover in the region to 15%(?) which is several million trees, and the many NFM proposals including one for Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme Part 2 which proposes to spend several £million on NFM. Some of the Angling Clubs in the valley have already been doing their bit and their contribution will continue to be very welcome and helpful. And of course the Upper Aire Project has been planting trees up there for several years now.

My basic point was that we (me, WRF, EA, LCC and others) are doing our best to get all this possible activity collated. It’s important not to control it all but to help some sense of co-ordination, collaboration and mutual learning.

The landscape implications of all this work may be significant and one of the stakeholder engagement issues currently identified, but yet to be tackled, is the impact on the wider community of this change. Watch this space – as well as the countryside.

Geoff Roberts – Chairman, Aire Rivers Trust

‘Tis the season to be planting….

Lothersdale Tree Planters
One of Bradford City Angling Association’s tree planting work parties

Winter weather may be a good excuse to stoke the fire, contemplate the drinks cabinet closely and turn one’s back to the outdoors. However, that cold weather also causes dormancy in trees which means winter is the ideal time to get out planting, provided the ground is not too water-logged or too frozen!

Trees are increasingly recognised as being a valuable component of natural flood management – see, for instance, this blog . They intercept rain and slow it reaching the ground, even when they are bare. Their roots allow water to penetrate more deeply into the soil. Their physical presence slows flow when rivers overtop banks and their trunks act as natural filters, trapping debris that is carried along in flood water. Their roots within the soil also increase the resilience of river banks by binding them together. They provide a host of other ecosystem benefits too, such as shade for rivers during the summer, and food and nest sites for insects and birds.

The Aire valley is crying out for more trees. Giant strides have been made by the partners of the Upper Aire Project in initiating some quite large scale planting schemes towards the top end of the system. However, every little helps….

Before Christmas, at least three groups were out and about planting. Anglers are the eyes and ears on the river bank, and often true champions of river stewardship. Members of both Bradford City Angling Association  and Skipton Angling Association have been busy on the banks of the Aire where they have riparian rights, and in close partnership with the relevant riparian land owners and the Environment Agency over 1500 trees have been planted near the river at various locations with more to come. Skipton AA are also planting on the becks feeding Embsay Reservoir, with permission from Yorkshire Water.

Lotherdale 1
Lothersdale village residents planting up a track verge to intercept overland flow

Towards the top end of a major Aire tributary, the villagers of Lothersdale have also been identifying areas suitable for planting. They were one of the first recipients of a Woodland Trust Community Woodland Grant to rehabilitate the woodland in the centre of the village and along Lothersdale Beck.

Now they have planted approximately 1000 trees to link established copses, create shelter-belts and interception belts to slow the flow of water reaching the small becks. Word of mouth has spread the news and various local landowners are interested in establishing further planting on their properties.

Lotherdale 2
Planting on the Aire at Eshton Beck confluence

Where have the trees come from? Well, some have been lovingly grown on by interested folk, collecting acorns for example. The majority, however, for these small scale initiatives have come from either the Woodland Trust  or the Trust for Conservation Volunteers , in some cases facilitated by the Wild Trout Trust .

 

 

Community packs of trees in various permutations and combinations are available to groups and schools – see their websites for details.

Planting by Lothersdale village residents alongside the Pennine Way
Planting by Lothersdale village residents alongside the Pennine Way

 

Thanks to (Prof.) Jon Grey, a Lothersdale resident and Research and Conservation Officer for The Wild Trout Trust for this article.