The British weather is notoriously temperamental. If it’s not warm temperatures in mid-March or the threat of drought in May, then it’s heavy rain in July and snow in October.
There’s no predicting which extreme conditions might come our way, but for those whose livelihoods depend on the land, preparing for every eventuality is critical. This is doubly so for farms that are at risk of flooding.
According to the Environment Agency, a tenth of land in England and Wales is at risk of flooding; with 1.3 million acres of farmland situated within flood plains. Worryingly, climate change is just going to make the occurrence of extreme weather events more common over the coming years.
Fortunately, there are steps that farmers and small holders can take to lessen the impact of flooding – some of which are listed below.
Protecting your property and land
Most farmers will have some form of farm or smallholder insurance scheme in place. It’s key to check the finer details to find out what is actually covered under the policy. If you are in any doubt, then speak to your insurer about your concerns and requirements. You might then be able to add elements to your cover to further enhance the protection of your property and land.
Additionally, the Environment Agency and Newcastle University have developed an interactive Flood and Agriculture Risk Matrix (FARM) tool, which enables farmers and landowners to assess the risk of flooding on their farm. Free to download, it also provides options for reducing flood risk, thus is well worth checking their EA website out for.
Minimising risk through preparation
Planning ahead is crucial for managing the floods and reducing the associated damage to soil and crops.
Land: improving water absorption and drainage is key. The EA suggests that after harvest, it’s a good idea to loosen the soil to create a roughened surface and leave for as long as possible, as this lets water soak in rather than run off. Digging small bypass ditches and shallow trenches can also help improve drainage and combat flooding by storing the excess water. If your land incorporates any watercourses, ensure that any blockages are cleared regularly so that water can flow freely and won’t accumulate.
Livestock: those that are kept outside must be removed from wet areas with access strictly controlled, especially in times of flooding. There is an increased risk of injury and illness to animals at such times due to unsafe surfaces and the prevalence of waterborne diseases. Free-roaming livestock can cause a lot of damage to land that has become saturated or to flooded watercourses; their presence could lead to water pollution and land erosion, so keep them inside.
Property and equipment: There are many measures you can take to reduce flood damage to the farmhouse and outbuildings, though they might require some outlay. They include fitting non-return valves to drains and pipes to stop water going the wrong way, getting a special draining cavity wall system, installing specially-treated windows and using raised-threshold flood-proof doors. Store all items of value up high, including farm chemicals and livestock feed, etc. Machinery and vehicles, if possible, should be stored on higher land.
As a sector that is incredibly vulnerable to the weather, farmers need to start preparing themselves for more extreme conditions – whether that’s by improving drainage, upgrading insurance or raising their shed doors. It seems that such weather conditions will become a more regular ‘feature’ of British life, thus protecting and preparing land and property will be absolutely necessary for the successful continuation of any agricultural venture.