Controversy overdredging

Richard Benyon
Richard Benyon
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The government’s practice of making policy on the hoof has led to another storm of protests and left Defra Minister Richard Benyon backtracking on reports that the Secretary of State had instructed the Environment Agency to prepare options for the deregulation of river dredging to assist farmers and landowners reduce agricultural flood risks.

The Environment Agency had been asked to consider how it can make it easier for farmers and landowners to undertake their own watercourse maintenance in response to some strong lobbying by the National Farmers Union in the aftermath of last year’s heavy rainfall and flooding.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson stated: “A directive went out from the EA in 2006 that low risk agricultural water courses were not to be touched. A misguided idea that this was helping wildlife. I want to make it as easy as possible for land owners to get a licence to carry out local maintenance. The purpose of waterways is to get rid of water.”

Unfortunately random dredging does not alleviate flooding. What it certainly does do is add to the problems lower downstream because water is flushed through the system more quickly. One man’s solution is another man’s problem. The problem isn’t solved, at best it is simply shifted elsewhere. Small wonder that wildlife groups and the Angling Trust became concerned and meetings were hastily arranged.

Mr Benyon has written to Angling Trust’s Martin Salter to clarify the government’s position and to confirm that “a wholesale deregulation is absolutely NOT what we are doing.”

Martin Salter responded: “Whilst we welcome these assurances from Richard Benyon, the government has only got itself to blame for its ham-fisted, knee-jerk attempt to make policy changes in a highly sensitive area without a formal announcement of intent or proper consultation. The government is fully signed up to a whole raft of environmental protections for our rivers.”