THERE’S usually nothing better than a deadline to focus minds and an apt example of this can be found in South Lakeland.

If no deal is reached to set up a Lyth Valley internal drainage board by next year, thousands of acres of lush farmland could be lost forever in 2016.

Perhaps the recent floods will help to concentrate minds on the issue. They show that if we don’t adequately maintain flood defences, lives and livelihoods can all too easily be put at risk.

Allowing the Lyth Valley to become flooded could have an affect beyond those farmers directly involved.

As Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron points out, this productive land makes a vital contribution to the nation’s food security and we can ill afford to lose it.

Some farmers would doubtless argue that because the Environment Agency is part of the same department which is responsible for food and rural affairs, it ought to have a duty to maintain the Lyth Valley drainage pumps.

But the agency is not legally obliged to provide this service, which costs the public purse thousands of pounds a year.

To be fair, officials originally wanted to shut down the drainage pumps by 2011 but agreed to keep them running until the end of next year to give farmers, landowners and other interested parties a chance to form their own internal drainage board, into which they would pay a levy to keep the pumps running.

This now looks a realistic possibility following a well-attended meeting to discuss the issue, held at J36 Rural Centre last week.

However, not everyone is keen to see the Lyth Valley kept dry.

Wildlife campaigners want to see the drainage pumps turned off so the valley can be returned to its ancient wetland state.

But while this might be ecologically attractive many would argue that the agricultural and community cost of doing so would be totally out of proportion to such a benefit.