Recent flooding is just a taste of what is to come for the UK

“Let’s hope this isn’t the sign of things to come,”1. In the aftermath of the severe flooding which has hit both the UK’s coastlines and rivers in the past few weeks, Margaret Young, a resident at Chesil Beach in Dorset, hinted at the extent of Britain’s coming flooding problem.

Currently, flooding poses a very serious annual threat to the UK. Over 110 flood alerts were issued last week 2, whilst the Environment Agency has reported that flooding cost the UK “between about £260 and £620 million”3 in the period of April 2012 and April 2013. Global warming is widely predicted to greatly increase the risk and severity of flooding in the UK, making this one of the most important economic and social issues for the UK in the 21st Century. The European Environment Agency predicts that climate change will “increase the occurrence and frequency of flood events…in particular flash floods”, whilst the Government’s own report expects “2 or 4 times” as much river flooding as now by 20803.

Reports like these, as well as the devastation caused by recent flooding, has led to widespread questioning of the government’s plans to cut another £300 million from DEFRA’s budget – the body responsible for flood defence – at a time when it should be increasing it. This is not a new issue either, as the 2004 Foresight Future Flooding report stated a need for yearly increases of £10 – £30 million above inflation to the flood defence budget, until the 2080’s. Although the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, has defended his government’s cuts as necessary for overall deficit reduction, the flood defence budget should surely be ring fenced given that “every £1 currently invested…reduces the long-term cost of flooding… by around £8”3.

However, it is not just increased spending that is needed on flood management, but more effective spending. A recent Guardian article revealed the complete mismatch of flood prevention and farming policy in river drainage basins where vast sums of money are being spent on subsidies for upland farmers to create additional farmland by removing vegetation, increasing flood risk4. Bare land has no or little vegetation to intercept rainfall, significantly increasing the risk of flooding downstream. A recent study of small-scale reforestation at Pontbren, near the source of the River Severn, showed that if 5% more land in the river’s catchment was reforested, there would be a 29% reduction in flooding peaks5 downstream.

Flood defence is, of course, only a small part of the work of Owen Paterson and DEFRA (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) but it is also just one example of their continued incompetence in managing environmental affairs. The ongoing badger culls vociferously pursued by the Government in Western England present another obvious example. 2,081 badgers are scheduled to be killed in the pilot scheme alone, yet DEFRA’s own figures predict a measly 16% reduction in TB cases in cattle as a result of the badger cull. However, a recent analysis of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial which ran from 1998 to 2005 has shown even this figure to be an overestimate, since in the areas studied only 6% of cows received TB directly from badgers6.

All this goes to show that a government policy of cutting and misspending the flood defence budget is no effective policy at all in mitigating against the increased flooding that will be brought about by global warming. Though this damage may not affect the PM or his colleagues living in the Home Counties, it will bring devastation to 900,000 other homes in the UK by 20503.

While Margaret Young and thousands of others continue the cleanup operation after the recent flooding, the threat of severe flooding to their and others’ properties will be getting ever worse, thanks in large part to the incompetence of our coalition government.

Contributed by Ben Williamson

1. The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/jan/07/uk-floods-chesil-beach-sirens

2. Met Office, flood alert chart for 08/01/14.

3. Environment Agency, http://a0768b4a8a31e106d8b0-50dc802554eb38a24458b98ff72d550b.r19.cf3.rackcdn.com/LIT_8443_200ddd.pdf

4. The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/13/flooding-public-spending-britain-europe-policies-homes

5. Howard Wheater et al 2008, http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/5890/1/ur16_impacts_upland_land_management_wp2_2_v1_0.pdf

6. PLOS, http://currents.plos.org/outbreaks/article/the-contribution-of-badger-to-cattle-tb-incidence-in-high-cattle-incidence-areas/

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