COLUMN: Reporting Back with MP Anne McIntosh

Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh.
Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh.

Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh discusses how schemes to help prevent flooding can be encouraged.

Working with nature must surely be the best way to create new flood defences.

The debate on the relative costs and benefits of so-called hard and soft flood defences, or more engineered ones versus more natural means of defence, is intensifying.

The Environment Agency has still to agree to fund the Thirsk flood alleviation project which is disappointing.

As I understand, the scheme is in two parts with a flood defence wall along a short stretch of Cod Beck in Thirsk itself and the other part of the scheme will involve retaining water upstream, in agreement with the landowner. Of course, this will have to meet the provisions of the Reservoir Act and be signed off by a civil engineer.

Payments for ecosystems services approaches can be applied to flood control. Slowing upstream water flow can be more effective and cheaper than installing hard flood defences downstream.

Land management approaches such as increased tree planting have slowed the flow of water from the Pickering Beck and River Severn catchments before it reaches inhabited areas.

In our recent report on the Natural Environment White Paper, the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs concluded projects like Pickering are class leaders of this type and such schemes should also qualify for payments for eco-system services.

Already farmers and landowners can use such land management practices to qualify for environment stewardship schemes under the Common Agricultural Policy.

Extending such services to the private sector opens up all sorts of opportunities which would be good for the countryside, good for the environment and particularly beneficial for the people of Pickering.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, of which I am chairman, has recommended that Defra commissions further research on the development of schemes where the flow of water can be regulated more effectively by the use of ecosystems management.

Defra should establish a series of pilot schemes across England and Wales before the end of this Parliament.

These should include a focus on the potential for payments for ecosystems services to encourage landowners and farmers to adopt management practices which reduce the impacts of flooding on local communities.