Farming in the Uplands - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the Environment Agency


  The Environment Agency welcomes the Committee's request to input to its inquiry on the issues facing farmers in the uplands. The Environment Agency is already working in partnership with local communities to deliver multiple environmental objectives whilst maintaining incomes for upland farmers.


  1.1. The Environment Agency is the leading public body for protecting and improving the environment in England and Wales. We provide independent technical advice, regulate and deliver a number of services to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources, including water quality and water quantity. We have a strategic overview of all forms of flooding and manage the risk of flooding from main rivers and the sea.


  2.1. There are a number of environmental management issues associated with upland farming in which the Environment Agency has a particular interest, including:

    — Drainage, burning, overgrazing and trampling of upland soils (particularly peat) which can lead to increased soil erosion impacting on the ability of upland soils to hold carbon and water.

    — Climate change impacts. UKCIP02 high emissions scenarios suggested a reduction in the area covered by typical upland peat of more than 50% in England, Wales and Scotland by 2050.[7] This estimate is supported by UKCP09 which indicates a marginally greater temperature increase for the warmest months in the north of the United Kingdom than estimated by UKCIP02.

    — Changes in peatland function could change rates of runoff; flood risk; water quality and quantity; and carbon and greenhouse gas fluxes.

  2.2. Those working in the uplands are likely to need to change land management practices to adapt to changes in weather patterns, including the increased risk of flooding from climate change.


  3.1. The uplands deliver a number of ecosystem benefits. These services underpin basic human health and survival needs as well as supporting economic activities and enjoyment of life. They include local flood risk management, improvement in water quality, reduction in water colouration and an increase in biodiversity.

  3.2. Upland hydrology is extremely complex, considerable research is ongoing which has shown that drainage ditches (grips) can capture large areas of upslope drainage and siphon off water into the drainage network. It has also shown that flow velocities in the ditches can be up to two orders of magnitude faster than overland flow over the hill slope. Water flow arrives at the catchment outlet much faster potentially increasing flood generation.

  3.3. Much of the drinking water is collected in the uplands. This water is affected by the impacts of grazing on soils, water movement and erosion. Levels of Dissolved Organic Matter and Dissolved Organic Carbon have almost doubled in upland waters since the late 1980s.[8] Catchment management approaches involving water companies, farmers, land managers and others are more sustainable than increasingly intensive treatment processes. They can offer wider benefits to wildlife, flood alleviation and carbon sequestration and help deliver the Water Framework Directive (WFD) obligations.

  3.4. River Basin Management Plans and Catchment Flood Management Plans provide the framework for delivering multiple objectives in the uplands. These plans confirm the actions required, including flood risk management, water quality, ecology and biodiversity and provide a framework for delivering actions, and benefits, locally.


  4.1. The Environment Agency is involved in a number of local projects looking at the benefits derived from land use change including flood risk management and water quality.

  4.2. We are working in partnership with private landowners in the Belford Catchment, Northumberland to create a number of on farm storage ponds, in-stream wetlands and floodplain woodlands. These have already been shown to reduce the level of flooding in the town of Belford, providing benefits to those at risk whilst maintaining an income for the landowners by allowing them to continue their normal farm management practices.

  4.3. United Utilities' Sustainable Catchment Management Project (SCaMP) in the North West was developed, in association with the RSPB, to apply an integrated approach to catchment management in two key areas. It aimed to help achieve government targets for SSSIs, enhance biodiversity, ensure a sustainable future for the company's agricultural tenants and protect and improve water quality. In addition to the main project, the Environment Agency jointly commissioned research with Defra to estimate the impact of the SCaMP works on flood risk. The analysis of early short-term impacts seems to show that the SCaMP works did not have a marked effect on discharge in the river network.

  4.4. We are involved in all three Defra multi-objective demonstration projects, "Slowing the flow at Pickering", Making space for Water in the Upper Derwent Valley" and the "Holnicote estate" which have benefited from £1 million of Defra's adaptation fund. All three projects have upland elements integral to them and are good examples of public private partnership working to deliver multiple objectives. In particular the "slowing the flow" project in Pickering led by Forest Research is working with a number of private partners including, the Duchy of Lancaster and the North York Moors Railway as well as private tenants. The project will investigate how land management can help to reduce the potential for flooding in Pickering,North Yorkshire and the lessons that can be applied to other communities and cities across the country. The wider environmental benefits of the measures will also be assessed.

  4.5. The Environment Agency is currently working with the water industry in delivering over 100 catchment investigations and management schemes in the latest periodic review (PR09). The Environment Agency also chairs the Catchment Forum, a partnership between the water industry, the Environment Agency, the Drinking Water Inspectorate, Natural England and Ofwat, that aims to facilitate further investment in this approach. We are also hoping to initiate a project with Ofwat and the water industry to provide guidance on valuing the multiple benefits that catchment management may bring. It is intended that this will support our planning for the next periodic review (PR14) and the development of measures for the second cycle of river basin planning under WFD.

  4.6. The Environment Agency has facilitated the formation and work of the Upland Hydrology Group (UHG) which brings together those who have a direct interest in the delivery of multiple benefits from the uplands and those who own and manage the uplands. The group has focused on identifying what is already known, and what we need to know in quantifying and delivering water quantity and water quality benefits from the uplands.


  5.1. We are seeking to work in partnerships wherever appropriate on these important topics.

  5.2. We recognise that the uplands have an important role to play in delivering multiple benefits including flood risk management and water quality. Through work with farmers, land managers, and water companies we will continue to promote the wise use of upland agricultural systems.

November 2010

7   From Environment Agency science report: SR070036 Back

8 Back

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