Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by English Nature (L 1)


  1.  English Nature is the statutory body that champions the conservation and enhancement of the wildlife and natural features of England. We work for wildlife in partnership with others, by:

    —  advising—Government, other agencies, local authorities, interest groups, business communities and individuals on nature conservation in England;

    —  regulating—activities affecting the special nature conservation sites in England;

    —  enabling—others to manage land for nature conservation, through grants, projects and information;

    —  enthusing—and advocating nature conservation for all and biodiversity as a key test of sustainable development.

  2.  We have statutory responsibilities for nationally-important nature conservation sites: Sites of Special Scientific Interest, the most important of which are managed as National Nature Reserves.

  3.  Through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, English Nature works with sister organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to advise Government on UK and international nature conservation issues.


  4.  In the light of increased storminess and rainfall events, English Nature believes that a long-term strategic approach to flood-defence planning is now needed, and that there are distinct benefits from working with nature wherever possible.

  5. English Nature, therefore, recommends:

  5.1  the adoption of catchment-level flood management strategies and flood defence planning;

  5.2  greater use of washland areas and land-use changes in order to reduce flood risks;

  5.3  consideration for the development of an incentive scheme for landowners and land managers to facilitate flood relief measures.

  6.  The recent flooding of Lewes in West Sussex illustrates the need and opportunities for such approaches. Flooding of the town resulted from river water meeting a tidal surge in a constrained channel. Opportunities for creation of washland exist above the town on agricultural land and below the town on Lewes Brooks SSSI, which requires higher water levels. The SSSI could be used for freshwater storage. There is also the opportunity to create saltmarsh, through set back of floodbanks in the estuary. These options should be considered as part of a strategic approach to flood management in the Ouse catchment.


  7.  Drainage for agriculture and the erection of floodbanks along rivers has led to significant losses in biodiversity, including characteristic aquatic wildlife communities. Currently, some 400 Sites of Special Scientific Interest in England are at risk from flood defence and drainage.

  8.  The designation of new areas of washland, into which river flows can be diverted, will be a key element of this approach. The Nene Washes demonstrate the dual benefits of helping to protect Peterborough from flooding and contributing to biodiversity targets, with 1,310 hectares of farmland classified as a European Special Protection Area for birds.

  9.  Retaining more rainfall in the upper-catchment gathering grounds of rivers is important in moderating peak flows, by spreading them over a longer period. Ways of improving water retention include restoration of canalised streams, the recreation of meadows, fens, pasture and wet woodland—all of which will benefit biodiversity.

  10.  At a catchment level, areas should be identified through hydrological modelling:

    (a)  where new wildlife habitats could be created;

    (b)  where it may be appropriate to change agricultural land use; and

    (c)  where urban development would be inappropriate because of flood risk.


  11.  As part of a wider Floodplain Restoration Initiative, English Nature is undertaking research into appropriate incentives that could be offered to farmers and landowners for providing areas of "washland". If some of the flood risk can be reduced by washland creation, it should lessen the need for extra urban defences, which are very costly to construct and maintain.

10 November 2000

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