Revealed: ministers break pledge to fund natural flood control

Guy Shrubsole

21 November 2016

Ministers are failing in their promises to support natural flood management (NFM), like planting trees to reduce flood risk, Friends of the Earth reveals.

A Freedom of Information request by Friends of the Earth to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) reveals that “at the time of writing there is no funding earmarked specifically for Natural Flood Management”. 
 
Yet there have been numerous indications that the government would introduce natural flood management schemes, since the devastating floods of winter 2015-2016, including those in Cumbria (main picture). This includes:  
 
•         Promises from ministers to fund NFM measures;
•         A £700 million pot of funding announced in this year’s Budget for "innovative" flood defence measures;
•         Recommendations by civil servants for specific NFM projects for funding.
 
Former floods minister Rory Stewart stated to the Environmental Audit Committee in April 2016:
 
“What we are looking for with the additional £700 million is an opportunity to do things that either are more difficult to measure, so the key example of that… is natural flood alleviation, [such as the] planting of trees”.
 
Responding to questions from MPs about funding sources for natural flood risk management, he later added: “You can look at accessing some of the money that comes out of the £700 million that we have been discussing earlier.”
 

Flooded village store
    Flooded village store, Glenridding, Cumbria, winter 2015-16, by Luke Santilli
Chris Jackson's possessions outside his flooded home
    Clearing up after the floods, Kendal, Cumbria, 2015-16, by Luke Santilli
 

Friends of the Earth understands that Rory Stewart earmarked £20 million for natural flood defences before he left DEFRA in the June 2016 reshuffle.

I fully support natural defence initiatives such as planting trees, which can slow the flow of water

Andrea Leadsom, Environment Secretary

A former senior official at the Environment Agency has confirmed to Friends of the Earth that “Defra have commissioned us to provide them with a set of proposed Natural Flood Management work packages totalling £20m.” But there has been no sign of this money since.

Find out about flooding where you live
 
Despite this, current ministers have continued to talk up natural flood management without offering funding for it.
 
Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom, in a recent letter to environmental charities, confirmed: “I fully support natural defence initiatives such as planting trees, which can slow the flow of water”.
 
Current floods minister Therese Coffey has similarly written to charities, assuring them: “We are determined that natural flood management solutions are fairly assessed and supported where they offer a viable way of reducing the damaging impacts of flooding.” Yet the government’s "catchment pioneer project" in Cumbria remains unfunded. 
 
Friends of the Earth, alongside charity Rewilding Britain, is calling on the Chancellor Philip Hammond to provide at least £20million for natural flood defences.
 
Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole said:
 
“Last winter’s floods were a powerful reminder that we need to work with nature to reduce flood risk – and ministers wholeheartedly agreed.
 
“But so far it’s been all talk and no action – the government has failed to spend a single extra penny on natural flood management.
 
“Ministers must replace warm words with hard cash and announce a pot of at least £20million for natural flood defences. Anything less will be a betrayal of the communities that flooded so terribly last winter.”
 
Helen Meech, Director of Rewilding Britain, said:
 
“With 1 in 6 properties in the UK currently at risk of flooding, a ratio that will only increase as our climate changes over coming decades, it is time to rethink our approach to managing flood risk."
 
“There is now significant evidence to show that rewilding can substantially reduce flood risk downstream, protecting communities at a fraction of the cost of traditional flood defences, whilst also delivering improved water quality and space for nature to thrive. 
 
“As Government considers new approaches to management of Britain’s natural environment post-Brexit, we feel it is high-time we invested in making space for water, for the benefit of both people and wildlife.”

submerged landscape Cumbria