Floody hell, we’re in a right Pickle

Eric Pickles
Eric Pickles
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It’s now official. The current winter is the wettest for 250 years.

Those who endured the hell of 2007 will appreciate we’ve been lucky in South Yorkshire, so far.

The rain hasn’t arrived in a single deluge, it’s just gone on and on, and on. A steady top up that has kept the local rivers running high but without the widespread disastrous consequences. Other areas of the country haven’t been so lucky this time.

As an angler of more than 50 years I cannot recall anything quite like it. The Trent has been practically unfishable for months although it doesn’t do to moan too loudly when some folk have lost their homes, their possessions and their livelihoods.

Politicians are running around like headless chickens in the hope of finding someone to blame. It’s embarrassing and the lack of understanding expressed by the likes of Eric Pickles is breathtaking.

It’s all well and good Pickles blaming the Environment Agency but who has cut their funding? Whose rules limit its spending on the Levels this year to just £400,000? Whose grand plan was it to shed 1,700 jobs? Why does the Agency’s struggle to deliver its statutory duties effectively? Surely it’s not Government meddling.

Suddenly David Cameron is saying: ‘What needs to be spent will be spent. There’s no restraints, no artificial restraints. What needs to be done will be done and will be paid for.”

I cringe at the knee jerk reaction of sending in the dredgers. It is not the answer. If only the solution were that simple.

Dredging is part of the cause and we’re now inheriting the consequences created 40 years ago when uplands and water meadows were drained with dredgers, when rivers became fluid relief channels with trapezoidal banks, every obstacle and meander that might slow down the rate of flow removed.

In this very column on January 21 I reported that Environment Secretary Owen Paterson was attempting to deregulate dredging in the remaining water meadows, so vital for storing flood water. It is an action that flies in the face of advice from his own department who have warned that this could contribute to an increase in flood risk further downstream by creating higher flood peaks.

Last year the Environment Agency issued a dire warning against increasing dredging in the floodplain, concluding that far from reducing flood risk dredging can speed up flows and potentially increase the risk of flooding downstream.

We are now being told that this is the solution.

I also quoted the now ominous views of the former MP, environmentalist and keen angler Martin Salter: “As we wait for the inevitable next round of flood misery I hope our politicians begin to wonder whether their own policies might just have been part of the problem.

“Rather than paddling around in the floodplain crying crocodile tears for the victims of the floods, politicians of all parties should start unwinding policies and plans that will make a bad situation many times worse.

‘It is crassly irresponsible to be axing any posts in the already over-stretched Environment Agency when we know climate change is going to make extreme flood events more, not less likely,

“Relaxing planning consents and deregulating dredging on the floodplain is downright stupid and flies in the face of evidence and advice from the government’s own experts and advisors. As anglers we know how dangerous rivers can be and how important it is to avoid situations where water is running off the floodplain and into already overloaded river channels.

“We can’t dredge our way out of flooding but we can call a halt to policies that prevent the water meadows from doing their job and operating as natural reservoirs. Functioning water meadows are good for the environment, good for fish and wildlife and are the best flood defences we can have.’

Those words have already come to haunt those responsible for the future of our flood defences. But will anyone listen? I doubt it.