The flood waters may be receding, but, for some, the crisis is only just beginning. Farmers fear that the flooding of sheds and slurry stores could cause parasites to flourish, stored feed to be spoiled, harmful chemicals to be spread on pastures and animals to be injured by debris. ‘There will be severe difficulties on the Somerset Levels long after the waters have receded-possibly for years,’ says Richard Percy, chairman of the NFU Mutual’s Charitable Trust. ‘Farmers are facing a massive task to restore flooded land to production and communities across the whole area are going to need long-term support.’ So far, NFU Mutual has received more than 8,000 flooding claims, which are expected to cost up to £80 million.
The farming community, especially Young Farmers’ clubs, has responded magnificently, mobilising supplies from all over England for stricken areas, and haulage companies have been transporting it free of charge; Herefordshire farmer Alastair Hunter-Blair, who now has 150 acres under water himself, sent 32 bales of haylage and is co-ordinating aid from his county. The South West NFU branch is now asking people to pledge animal fodder and bedding rather than actually deliver it (telephone 01392 440700 or email south.west@ nfu.org.uk). ‘The situation is under control in the short term,’ says NFU regional director Melanie Squires. ‘We will need to call on people’s generosity over the coming weeks, when farmers return to a fetid swamp.’
Towards the end of February, the Environment Agency (EA) still had 115 flood alerts out across the South, plus 65 pumps in action on the Somerset Levels, as rainy weather persisted. ‘We could still see further problems because of groundwater, for weeks if not months,’ warns the EA’s Katharine Evans. ‘In 2001, some rivers took six months to get back to normal.’ Next month, the EA will start dredging five miles of badly silted-up river near Burrowbridge, Somerset.
The CLA suggests that Treasury rules banning the EA from switching funds within its budgets should be relaxed. The body’s flood manifesto suggests that riparian owners and internal drainage boards should be more involved with river management and that Natural England should pay more attention to badger setts and mole tunnels, which can cause riverbanks to collapse. The Government has announced a Council Tax rebate for affected households and businesses, plus a £10 million fund for farmers to restore land; repair and renewal grants will go live from April 1.
Recommended videos for you
Even areas outside the main flood zones are expected to feel the effects for many months and Cornwall’s potato crop is in trouble. ‘Normally, farmers would start to plant from early January, but only 5%-10% has gone in the ground this year so far,’ reports business advisor Edward Richardson of Farm Cornwall. Tractors are getting stuck in waterlogged fields, Cornish cauliflowers have been destroyed by hail, silage levels will be very low -once the ground dries out, farmers will be left with mud, rather than grass-and fishermen ‘haven’t been out for months’.
Last year, Mr Richardson received a Land Rover Prince’s Countryside Fund bursary, which includes the use of a Freelander 2. Applications for 2014 bursaries open on March 10 (www.princescountrysidefund.org.uk/landroverbursary).
* Follow Country Life magazine on Twitter