Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence




  WWF and The Wildlife Trusts believe that the impact of floods in the UK can be reduced if action is taken to protect and restore floodplains and other areas that store or help absorb rainwater. Natural floodplains, wetlands, and permanent grassland or woodland soak up water and release it more slowly than other land uses, such as arable farmland, housing or industrial developments. The role of wetlands as natural flood storage areas should be recognised and promoted.

  Our proposals are underpinned by three general principles:

    —  Extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent as a result of climate change. It is important for both people and nature that we manage our river basins in a way that reduces the impacts of these weather events, particularly heavy rains.

    —  Loss of life through flooding should and could be avoided but recent experience has shown hard evidence that engineering is not the only answer. It is time to work with nature rather than against it and recognise the important function wetlands and our wider landscape can play in river regulation, and therefore in the protection of people and property.

    —  The Water Framework Directive, adopted by the European Union this year, provides an opportunity for a fresh approach to flood abatement based on integrated river basin management.


  WWF and The Wildlife Trusts recommend five priorities for action. Funds made available for flood prevention should be targeted at these priorities.

1.  The overall framework for managing our river basins should be improved

  The existing strategic framework for management of river basins from the uplands to the coast should be strengthened considerably and made more integrated. Environmental regulators, such as the Environment Agency in England and Wales, and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency in Scotland, must be given a more significant role in setting limits on land use change, in particular to make sure that there are sufficient floodplains, flood storage areas and land with high water absorption capacity within river basins. The opportunity for strengthening this framework is provided by the recent adoption of the Water Framework Directive by the European Union.

2.  Planning guidance should protect floodplains from development

  The Government's guidance to local planning authorities in draft PPG25, "Development and Flood Risk", should be strengthened to include a presumption against development in areas of river basins that are prone to regular flooding, or provide valuable flood storage or run-off regulation functions. The Environment Agency should be given the power to veto development proposals that put floodplains at risk, or reduce their natural flood storage or water absorption capacity. Change of use of existing buildings also needs controlling. One reason why damage is so great is that a lot of old buildings in flood risk areas have been converted to uses that are inappropriate. Authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland should also have these powers, as should authorities throughout the European Union.

3.  All new developments should incorporate Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS)

  All new developments should incorporate Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS). These systems control the generation of run-off at source by using more permeable materials in the construction of roads, pavements and car parks. By encouraging infiltration of rainwater into the ground, and by retaining run-off in ponds, SuDS increase the storage capacity of river basins, improve water quality and provide valuable wetland habitat, and therefore reduce the likelihood and severity of floods. SuDS achieve this often at a fraction of the cost of conventional systems.

4.  Wetland restoration should be given priority as a means of flood management

  Flood defence schemes should work with nature rather than against it. The recent spate of flooding has shown that, while they may be appropriate in certain locations, many schemes based on hard engineering cannot cope with extreme river flows. Worse still, such schemes often exacerbate flooding problems in downstream areas. This is why WWF and The Wildlife Trusts support the conclusion reached by the House of Commons Agriculture Select Committee (1998) that a greater priority should be given to restoration of natural wetland habitats as a means of flood management.

5.  Farmers and landowners have a key role to play in flood management

  Support should be provided for farmers and landowners who manage their land in ways that help to reduce flooding. Changing arable farming practices, restoring wetlands, increasing native tree cover and maintaining landscape features such as hedgerows and ponds can all help to reduce run-off, increase the storage capacity of river basins and reduce peak river flows. Strategic thresholds for these land uses should be defined by the Environment Agency in conjunction with MAFF, based on scientific analysis of river basins. Targeted support should be made available to farmers and landowners to meet these thresholds. Cross-compliance should also be used to make sure that land use change does not exacerbate flooding, together with voluntary initiatives such as the Codes of Good Agricultural Practice. Authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland should also have these powers, as should authorities throughout the European Union.

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