With much of the media’s focus, over the Christmas / New Year break, being on the extensive flooding that caused chaos in the north of the country, and the pillorying that David Cameron then received from some sections of the media for breezily blaming ‘climate change’, it’s necessary to highlight a couple of causes of the recent flooding which the mainstream media appeared to do their best to ignore until the scenes of disaster could be safely replaced by news about the Labour Party’s never-ending Cabinet reshuffle or Kristina Rihanoff’s entry into the Celebrity Big Brother House.
The first is the almost complete cessation of dredging of our rivers since we were required to accept the European Water Framework Directive (EWF) into UK law in 2000. (Directive 2000/60/EU). Since this came into force, UK authorities, were for the first time, no longer charged with a duty to prevent flooding but instead to achieve ‘good ecological status’ for our national rivers. This is defined as being as close as possible to ‘undisturbed natural conditions’. What this has meant in practice is that many of our rivers have been steadily silting up over the last sixteen years and no amount of ‘flood defence barriers’ along the watercourse itself can therefore ever guarantee protection from the resulting increased water levels.
The second is the deforestation of our hills under EU regulations. Studies have shown that wooded hillsides absorb water nearly seventy times more effectively than grassy ones. Tree roots provide channels down which the water flows, deep into the ground and the soil becomes a sponge, a reservoir sucking up water and releasing it slowly. Also, the trees themselves draw up water, from their root system, through their trunks and branches to their leaves (releasing oxygen as part of the photosynthetic process). On hillsides denuded of trees, especially where sheep are grazed, the sheeps’s small sharp hooves puddle the ground, making it almost impermeable and off which the rain then floods. Farmers know this but under the subsidy rules of the Common Agricultural Policy their hillsides have to be free of ‘unwanted vegetation’ and this subsidy has enforced the mass clearance of vegetation from hillsides.
The Government publishes a list of what are called Permanent Ineligible Features (PIFs) which include woods, dense scrub, bracken, ponds, wide hedges and ungrazed reed beds. All of these are vital in impeding the flow of water downhill. Land that harbours these features is disqualified from CAP subsidies, which means that farmers have a powerful incentive to get rid of them. This PIF rule is one of the reasons why, above about six hundred and fifty feet, you will struggle to find trees almost anywhere in Great Britain. European regulations, in other words, prohibit both wildlife habitat and flood prevention. Ironically, for decades the British government has funded scientists working in the tropics and used their findings to advise other countries to replant trees in the hills to prevent downstream flooding.
EU rules prevent us from adopting our own advice at home and historic cities flood as a result.
David Cameron can don his North Face fleece and ‘non-Hunter’ wellies and wander around the flood-stricken areas expressing sympathy with those who have had their homes devastated by the floods until the end of time. But the inconvenient truth is that whilst we remain bound by EU statutes like the EWF and the CAP there is actually nothing whatsoever his, or any other government, can do about it.