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Dredging up Trouble: Government urged to resist calls to return to dredging disasters of the past


Dredging in Action

Environmentally damaging dredging schemes must not be prioritised over other proven flood-prevention measures - that's the strong warning to Government from the Angling Trust and the Blueprint for Water Coalition in advance of this year’s Autumn Statement from Chancellor George Osborne.

In June 2014 the Environment Agency informed stakeholders of a new instruction from the Environment Secretary appearing to prioritise dredging over other flood risk management options. Angling and wildlife groups believe that this represents a clear shift in policy, cutting across Defra’s own funding rules which ensure the Environment Agency targets its limited budget where the benefit to communities is greatest. The organisations believe that this could trigger a return to the policies of the 1960s and 1970s, and turn many rivers into straightened flood channels in order for Government to be seen to be ‘doing something’.

A new report, Dredging up Trouble, which was published this week by the Blueprint for Water partners, stresses that alternatives must be properly considered to avoid a repeat of the widespread damage that was done to fisheries and fish habitat from dredging policies of the past.

The report identifies 10 priority areas which would inevitably lose out if new funding is ring-fenced for dredging alone. These include protecting life and public health, natural flood management options and sustainable drainage systems.

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust said: “The Government has been trying to find ways to stop farmers’ fields flooding, but ignoring the fact that bad management of farmers’ fields is causing flooding of people’s homes.  Instead of wasting money on dredging, which is largely pointless, the Government should use the existing £2 billion subsidies from taxpayers to drive real change in farming practices to improve water management throughout river catchments.”

The report concludes that failure to consider all options will be in breach of Defra’s own rules which ensure that the Environment Agency targets its limited budget to areas where the benefit to communities is greatest. Recent studies have shown that dredging can, in some cases, actually make downstream flooding worse by moving water too quickly down river catchments.

Martin Salter, National Campaigns Coordinator for the Angling Trust and one of the organisers of the report, added: "With so many communities still at flood risk and so many important schemes awaiting funding it is deeply concerning that Defra and the Treasury are considering making a special case for farmland and land-drainage over people and property with all the associated downstream risks and damage to river and wildlife habitats that dredging in inappropriate locations can cause. Add to this the fact that three quarters of our rivers are failing to meet good ecological status, it beggars belief that wholesale dredging could be back in vogue when the evidence shows that it is always bad news for fisheries and seldom a sensible or sustainable long term solution to flooding."

Janina Gray, Chair of the Blueprint for Water and Head of Science for the Salmon & Trout Association said: “Within the Blueprint for Water Coalition we are concerned that, in its eagerness to be seen to be ‘doing something’, the Government will increase investment in dredging. This could exacerbate, rather than reduce, flood risk in areas and cause environmental damage. It would also reduce the likelihood of other more effective solutions being taken forward”.

In February the Angling Trust, RSPB and other Blueprint for Water partners backed publication of Floods and Dredging – A Reality Check, which illustrated the folly of relying on dredging alone to reduce flood risk.  

Rob Cunningham, head of water policy at the RSPB, said: “It’s vital Government takes an evidence-led approach to reducing flood impacts through a range of measures working with natural processes to complement traditional defences by: slowing flows; and increasing infiltration and flood storage throughout catchments. That doesn’t just mean more money – it also means securing better value from the £2billion spent supporting farmers by requiring tougher action to protect soils and targeting additional payments where they deliver greatest benefit.”

The coalition has submitted its report as a formal response to the Treasury consultation on the Autumn Statement, which closed on Friday 17 October, 2014.


For further information please contact:

Mark Lloyd - 07973468198

Martin Salter - 07976946033

Editor’s notes:

1. The Dredging up Trouble report is endorsed by the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Managers (CIWEM); The Wildlife Trusts; Angling Trust; Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust; Institute of Fisheries Management; Friends of the Earth; Buglife; RSPB; Salmon & Trout Association; Amphibian and Reptile Conservation; and Wildlife and Countryside Link.

2. The 10 principles outlined in the Dredging up Trouble report are:

Protecting life and public health

Defences that protect hospitals, care homes and bungalows – where people can’t escape upstairs – should be top of the list.

Natural Flood Management

More and more towns and villages are being protected by flood schemes that  integrate habitat restoration with traditional flood walls: wetlands that store floodwaters, woodlands that slow flash floods and river restoration to hold more water in meanders and natural floodplains.

New Flood Defences

With 4 million homes at risk of flooding there is inevitably a long list of worthwhile new flood defences waiting to be built once enough funding becomes available.

Flood Recovery

It can take months or years to get back into your house after a flood, and the long and complicated recovery process can be as upsetting as the original flood. Government could offer an important helping hand to people as they put their home or business back together.

Sustainable Drainage

The cost-effectiveness, biodiversity provision and water treatment capabilities of Sustainable Drainage Systems have been demonstrated repeatedly and it is therefore time for SuDS to be taken up on a much larger scale.  

Coping with Climate Change

Climate change is already delivering more extreme weather with more flood events of greater severity. Investment is badly needed in adaptive schemes to provide future resilience for flood prone communities.

Defending Transport & Utilities

One-fifth of our rail network is at risk of flooding, a quarter of our gas infrastructure and many of our largest ports. It is important that money is available to safeguard our national infrastructure.

Enough staff for emergencies

4,500 Environment Agency staff were involved in last winter’s emergency flood work, including 800 who don’t usually work on flood management. With over a thousand  jobs expected to be lost in the Environment Agency alone it is doubtful whether the sufficient resources will be available to cover future flood events.

Enforcing the rules

Farmers receive £2 billion a year in subsidy on the condition that minimum legal safeguards are met including safeguarding soils so they don’t wash off fields and clog our rivers. Environment Agency surveys have found thousands of soil erosion issues yet only a tiny percentage result in enforcement action. Tackling this problem would also reduce run-off of water from farmland which contributes to flooding.

A duty of care to communities

We believe there should be much greater clarity about the role of local and national government in planning and facilitating adaptation, with funding dedicated to help people, communities and businesses who can’t be fully protected

3. In June 2014, the Environment Agency informed stakeholders of a new instruction from the Environment Secretary appearing to prioritise dredging over other flood-risk management options:

“I want to let you know that the Secretary of State has requested that we provide Defra with a prioritised list of locations where dredging would improve conveyance and reduce flood risk.   This follows the ongoing response to the winter floods and the recent response to the EFRA Committee.”

4. A PDF of the report can be downloaded HERE

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