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Comment: A wetter valley would bring wildlife benefits
4:55pm Thursday 5th September 2013 in Opinion
BILL KENMIR, the RSPB Cumbria Reserves Area Manager, argues the case for a less intensive drainage system in the Lyth Valley . . .
For generations the Lyth Valley has provided a home to a rich variety of wildlife, including birds such as lapwings and curlews, as well as an abundance of wildflowers and insects.
Writing more than 200 years ago local landowner William Pearson commented – admittedly with a touch of hyperbole – that there was such an abundance of life in the valley, you could find there every plant and animal known in the North of England. But today the valley’s wildlife is in trouble. Since the introduction of the pumping stations in the 1980s to intensively drain farmland, many species have suffered terrible declines.
Once abundant, redshanks no longer breed in the north of the valley, while the number of curlews has almost halved.
Farming is vitally important to the valley, and also has the potential to work in harmony with those plants and animals that share a home with the cattle and sheep that graze the valley floor.
e know from elsewhere, that with a little imagination, agriculture and nature do co-exist happily.
A potential for a way forward came a few years ago when the Environment Agency realised it was spending huge amounts of public money to maintain the drainage pumps in the Lyth Valley for relatively little public benefit.
In fact, it was spending 40 per cent of its flood management budget for the whole of the Kent and Leven catchment in the Lyth, but this was only protecting two per cent of the properties at risk of flooding.
The Environment Agency proposed a plan to prioritise spending towards protecting people and property and withdraw from schemes where the costs were disproportionate to the benefits.
Despite what you may have read elsewhere, the Environment Agency’s own analysis shows that withdrawing from most of the pump drainage in the Lyth Valley would not put any properties at risk of flooding and would allow farming to continue, albeit with a need to adapt to some of the land being wetter.
However, following pressure from a small group of landowners and a few influential politicians, the Environment Agency is now considering significant concessions that are depressingly similar to the status quo, providing no benefit to threatened wildlife.
It is a disappointment to me as both a nature lover and as a taxpayer.
These concessions would represent poor value for money and divert funds away from vital Environment Agency projects, where the flood risk to people’s homes is very real.
For example, a major flood in Kendal would blight many lives and have a huge negative impact on the local economy.
However, the Environment Agency has yet to allocate funds to the town’s flood protection scheme. We need to ask whether the money spent on the Lyth could help fund this and other important flood protection measures.
If farmers were supported to adapt to slightly wetter conditions, wetland areas and restored rivers could provide a vital home for wildlife. In fact, some are already actively restoring floodplain meadows and wet features. They are benefitting from wildlife-friendly farming schemes in exchange for managing parts of their land with nature in mind.
It would be up to the farmers, but habitats could range from wet features, such as farm ponds and reedy ditches, to floodplain meadows. All this would help give a home to a wealth of wildlife and is entirely compatible with profitable and successful agriculture.
If, like me, you would like to see a farmed Lyth Valley that also lets us enjoy some of nature that William Pearson was so lucky to experience, then visit www.rspb.org.uk/lythvalley to find out how you can help.
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