Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Mr Roger Lankester, Marine Ecology & Sailing (A38)

  Thank you for the opportunity to submit evidence to the above inquiry. My submission will address the matter of:

    —  The opportunities and difficulties faced by agriculture as a result of possible reductions in production subsidies

for farm land which has an interface with the sea at tidal rivers, estuaries and coastal waters. As background to this memorandum I would ask that reference is made to my evidence contained in the Agriculture Committee's Sixth Report—Flood & Coastal Defence. In particular Appendix 46 and specifically the enclosures relating to Greensail and the Environment Agencies material on managed realignment.

  It is a matter of historical record that large areas of land used for agriculture at the land/sea interface were claimed from the sea, a process that has taken place over a number of centuries. Such areas are normally located around the low energy coastline of tidal rivers and estuaries. The original natural order of these areas was mudflats and salt marsh, habitat that was once considered to be of little value. A perception that was badly misplaced, both in terms of wildlife interest and the economic value of salt marsh as an attenuating influence on wave energy, minimising the cost of coastal flood defences. These issues are well illustrated in the enclosures with the above Appendix 46.

  As a result of growing awareness of the value of inter-tidal mudflats and salt marsh flood and coastal defence policy has evolved in favour of restoring these lost areas to their original status prior to reclamation. The economic reason for such a policy is obvious. Repairing coastal defences can cost up to £1,000 per metre to repair. Taking a square one hectare parcel of coastal land to protect from flooding the cost of repairing the flood defence embankment would be £100,000 to the tax payer. However, in many places the protected areas of reclaimed land are narrow strips with the cost of repairing the defences substantially more than this figure. Such land is no longer environmentally or economically sustainable.

  A further aspect is that when the land was originally claimed from the sea it automatically became the property of the adjacent land owner. Although the land was claimed in the past by coastal agricultural communities and landlords, largely through their own efforts, the current flood defence costs are provided entirely from public funds. Where the land is no longer needed to grow food or graze animals there is clearly no economic or social reason for the high cost of maintaining the flood defences. A form of farming subsidy.

  A generous financial package is now available to coastal land owners who contribute suitable land for managed realignment projects. This enables the Environment Agency to re-establish the sea defence embankment in a set back position on higher ground thus minimising the cost of any sea defence infrastructure. Breaching the old embankment allows the sea to return reclaiming the inter-tidal area. Subsequently, given the right conditions, salt marsh re-establishes creating much needed wildlife habitat and attenuation of the wave energy reducing the cost of any new sea defence structures.

  Although I have some knowledge of the financial package available to coastal farmers this is by no means exhaustive and I would recommend the committee obtain accurate and up to date information from the Environment Agency or DEFRA officials, this should also include the current project assessment protocols.

  However, despite what to the majority of citizens is a generous financial package there appears to be a very limited take up of this opportunity by coastal farmers. The reasons are unclear given what seems to be the obvious advantage of the policy. It may be that the psychological break with the lost land is too greater sacrifice for the farmer. In which case the primary objective is land ownership with farming activity the validation for its exclusive enjoyment.

  Alternatively it may be that the area of the land lost from agricultural use for a coastal farm makes the remaining land area too small to be financially viable. If this is the case then the solution may be to diversify into ancillary activities for the farmer.

  Enclosed are some colour prints showing low density yacht moorings on a salt marsh. As can be seen the low density and random mooring pattern avoid an unacceptable visual intrusion into the landscape. The timber walkways and staging allow the natural geomorphology of the salt marsh to develop unimpaired with access to each craft avoiding trampling the plants. The boats do not detract from the wildlife interest of the site. The one illustrated is a SSSI & SPA.

  An average charge of £500 per annum is made to moor each craft and at a density of 30 per hectare this would yield an income of £15,000 per hectare per annum. Maintenance costs, security etc would need to be deducted to determine clear profit. Also other chargeable services might be provided such as hard standings ashore, DIY maintenance facilities in redundant farm buildings, launching and recovery services using adapted farm machinery. There is already a related project in the Netherlands called "mooring with the farmer". The Environment Agency has shown that the income from yacht moorings can yield a return 1.6 times that for equivalent farmed land.

  There is no reason why the newly created inter-tidal area resulting from a managed realignment project should not be similarly used to augment the income of the adjacent farm.

  What would need to be considered is the terms and conditions to be applied by government. The inter-tidal area could become the property of the Crown Estate with automatic lease-back arrangements to the farmer. Or the farmer might receive a reduced compensation package but retain the freehold rights to the site. A further requirement would be permitted development rights for craft up to a density of say 35 boats per hectare, this would be comparable to the exemptions granted under the Town and Country Planning Act for agricultural buildings.

  I would invite the committee to consider this option to solve the economic problems of environmentally sustainable coastal defences.

12 December 2001

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 6 November 2002