While the flooding threatens to bring more misery to more people, the political and media attention is shifting to money - money to deal with the clean up and money to make the country more resilient to future extreme weather events.
I imagine that existing departmental budget holders will be asked to see what contribution they can make and a certain amount of reprioritisation is inevitable. For Defra, there is always the nervousness that other budgets are raided - one of the reasons why if you remember, we were so concerned about the merger between Environment Agency and Natural England (see here). But, Defra could and should look at the £15 billion of Common Agriculture Policy money that they have at their disposal . I've written previously about the role that the CAP has in influencing flood-resilient land management in the future (see here).
Here's another idea, which I don't think has been considered thus far.
Under CAP rules, it is possible to make additional Pillar I payments (part of the £12 billion available for direct farm subsidies) to ‘environmentally important’ types of farming. Defra should give serious thought to how this measure could help build resilience. The rules state that it is possible to channel additional direct payments to “sectors or to those regions ...where specific types of farming or specific agricultural sectors... are particularly important for economic, social and/or environmental reasons”.
This approach would enable Defra to redistribute up to 8% of the Pillar I budget (c £1bn up to 2020) to farms where the continuation of certain practices, particularly extensive livestock grazing, is environmentally important but is becoming increasingly financially untenable due to, for example, regular flood events. By channelling additional support to such farmers, Defra would be supporting farmers in these vulnerable areas while making Pillar I payments work harder for the environment.
This is quite a lot of money and it is certainly worth thinking about especially in places like the Somerset Levels.
Just a thought.
I expect that the debate about flood money is going to go on long after the flood waters have subsided and I may return to this at a future date.
Thanks for pointing the Pontbren project out to me Keith. Will have a look. You're right that these sort of projects can help show the way to others. We do similar things with water companies in places like Dove Stone in the Peak District and Haweswater in the Lakes. But the more, the better.
Good lateral thinking Martin.
And an excellent example of how incentivised upland farm projects can help with integrated flood management schemes is epitomised in the initiatives undertaken by Welsh farmers of the Pontbren project, see here - http://tinyurl.com/nba2pcy.
We need more of these schemes in the uplands around appropriate watersheds, and use of CAP money of any colour to encourage more of this behaviour is deserving of all our support.
Martin, more than a thought - absolutely central to building resilience. As I've said time and time again we must bring land managers into this and reward them for protecting people's homes - this isn't about town vs country its about society as a whole working together to solve a very real developing problem, only likely to get worse. The Levels are the obvious case at the moment but they are rather exceptional, with land below sea level - we must also look at the floodplains of the Severn, the Thames and the Ouse (through York). Land management in the middle catchments - planning to flood more land, reducing field drainage either by cutting drains or by creating absorbtive barriers like belts of trees and also, as well as wet grassland, woodland which slows the flow far more effectively than bare (grass) land - is crucial - its not just about the headwaters, where the impact of trees, bog restoration etc is important but does not necessarily have such an impact on peak flow. We have to do this on a serious scale - tens of thousands of hectares and we have to strike a balance between different priorities - food is not the one and only product of the 70% of our countryside that is farmed and it is time to ramp up the debate before we lose an entire city to flooding.
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