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Fresh commitments to tackle flooding

Fuelled by the wettest December on record and the terrible storms of early January 2016, some parts of Scotland endured their worst flooding in a lifetime.
 
By early January, thousands of acres of Scottish farmland were under water, long-established floodbanks had been breached; precious stock, topsoil and fencing were lost in the floods and debris including trees and boulders were strewn across fields. 
 
In the immediate aftermath, following visits to farms by SEPA officials and Ministers, NFU Scotland secured a commitment from Scottish Government to support a floodbank restoration scheme that distributed more than £1.8 million of assistance to more than 150 flood-hit farmers. At a regional level, several local authorities were encouraged by members and NFUS regional staff to put in place flood support schemes that were open to farming businesses.
 
The severe floods galvanised NFUS into pursuing changes to river management that would produce lasting benefits and longer-term resilience to flooding in the future.
 
In the first six months of 2016, NFU Scotland’s Presidential team and staff visited flood-stricken regions, meeting dozens of affected farmers – often accompanied by local politicians, SEPA and local authorities -  and gathering valuable testimony of the physical damage and the emotional toll wrought by the flooding.
 
This week, Vice President Rob Livesey visited farms in Aberdeenshire to monitor progress on tackling flooding problems.  At Sandy and Neil Glennie’s Burnside Farm near Alford, situated on the River Don, he heard about work with SEPA to secure a licence for the vital removal of gravel from under a bridge next summer with debris to be removed from the river at the same time to improve the watercourse.
 
There are three other key rivers in Scotland – the Dee, the Tay and the Spey – where, in negotiations with NFU Scotland, SEPA agreed to carry out scientific assessments to establish if gravel deposits played a part in the flooding.   The interim results of these assessments will be presented by SEPA to the relevant NFU Scotland regional boards in January 2017, and to the Union’s Board of Directors early next year.
 
NFUS and SEPA also identified that erosion of river banks and loss of valuable farmland was a significant consequence of last year’s storms and previous flooding. To help farmers protect their land, both organisations have worked together on the relaxation of regulations to permit river bank reinforcement using a mix of stone and willow or tree trunks, as well as producing guidance on these techniques.
 
Earlier this month, Scottish Government also started a consultation on changes to the Controlled Activities Regulations. One of the proposals is to regulate river bank reinforcement activity via the General Binding Rules – the lightest touch level of such regulation. If this is enacted, it will mean land managers will not need to apply to SEPA for permission to carry out such works – they will simply need to comply with a pre-determined set of conditions. This important step forward, if agreed, should come into force in time for summer 2017.
 
In a further development, SEPA has allocated funds to put in place a national network of approximately ten on-farm demonstration sites showcasing the new bank protection techniques. Farms with watercourse banks that were eroded during last winter’s storms can apply for 100 percent of the design costs and up to 50 percent of the capital costs of the subsequent works. 
 
NFUS has also notified SEPA of river catchments across the country where groups of farmers want to actively manage stretches of rivers, rather than deal with problems individually. Catchment licences, an option brought in by SEPA several years ago with support from NFU Scotland, do not require annual fees and are being used successfully by several groups around the country. New ones are now in the early stages of development, with help from local NFU Scotland staff.
 
And in addition, for 2017, NFU Scotland and SEPA are currently working on a series of workshops to help inform contractors involved watercourse engineering, and land managers themselves, of the often-complex regulations in this area.
 
After this week’s farm visits in Aberdeenshire, Mr Livesey said: “The impact of flooding in 2016 was horrendous for a significant number of Scottish farmers.  The widespread damage to productive agricultural land has seen a real drive to improve the ability of farmers – or groups of farmers – to properly manage watercourses to mitigate the flooding threat.
 
“The genuine shift in the number of tools available to farmers to cope with flood risk this year will follow through into 2017.  NFU Scotland will continue to keep the issues of flooding and watercourse management under scrutiny, as undoubtedly the challenges will only become greater as volatile weather patterns and impact of Climate Change intensifies.”  Ends 
 
Notes for Editors
 
Anyone wishing more details on the Grant Scheme for Riverbank Repair Demonstration Sites should go to http://bit.ly/2gtcTCl. NFU Scotland members can also discuss their proposal with Andrew Bauer at Head Office. The scheme is scheduled to close in March 2017, but NFU Scotland is in discussion with SEPA about having this extended to allow more farmers and crofters to apply.
 
A photograph of NFUS Vice President Rob Livesey viewing flood-risk farmland at Burnside Farm, Alford this week with farmers Sandy and Neil Glennie is available from media@nfus.org.uk  
 

Date Published:

News Article No.: 269/16


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