ENVIRONMENT Secretary Liz Truss’s pledge to increase Defra’s capital budget by 12 per cent over the next five years is to be broadly welcomed.

And her commitment to ‘modernising’ an important department of state which deals with crucial issues such as food security and flooding is arguably long overdue.

As part of this new regime, Ms Truss expects Defra to do more to combat flooding and to give rural communities greater control over their local environment. In particular, this would allow farmers to maintain the drainage ditches which cross their land - a key change in the rules as currently their are unable to remove debris, such as silt from ditches, without permission. But how such a change will work in practice is unclear. For example, it is likely that Natural England will still want to have some say in when ditch-dredging can be carried out if it is likely to have an impact on wildlife.

Whether the new Defra approach will help the case of a new internal drainage board for the Lyth Valley, which fared very badly in the recent floods, is unclear; but valley farmers will doubtless want to see more precise proposals sooner rather than later.

Putting these uncertainties aside, Ms Truss’s announcement does sound like genuine progress for farmers in particular and rural communities in general.

One organisation quick to welcome the modernising pledge is the Country, Land and Business Association (CLA), which hopes a greater number of strategic bodies such as internal drainage boards can be set up to mitigate against increasing flood events. The CLA and other rural land experts also believe, quite rightly, that farmers can help to alleviate flood devastation for low-lying towns and villages by planting more trees to slow down the flow of water from their land. Of course, only time will tell whether yesterday’s announcement by Liz Truss will deliver anything worthwhile for rural communities.

But, for now, we have to give her the benefit of any doubt.