George Monbiot "how we ended up paying farmers to flood our homes"

young bull

Member
Mixed Farmer
Location
West Yorkshire
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/17/farmers-uk-flood-maize-soil-protection

It has the force of a parable. Along the road from High Ham to Burrowbridge, which skirts Lake Paterson (formerly known as the Somerset Levels), you can see field after field of harvested maize. In some places the crop lines run straight down the hill and into the water. When it rains, the water and soil flash off into the lake. Seldom are cause and effect so visible.


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That's what I saw on Tuesday. On Friday, I travelled to the source of the Thames. Within 300 metres of the stone that marked it were ploughed fields, overhanging the catchment, left bare through the winter and compacted by heavy machinery. Muddy water sluiced down the roads. A few score miles downstream it will reappear in people's living rooms. You can see the same thing happening across the Thames watershed: 184 miles of idiocy, perfectly calibrated to cause disaster.

Two realities, perennially denied or ignored by members of this government, now seep under their doors. In September the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, assured us that climate change "is something we can adapt to over time and we are very good as a race at adapting". If two months of severe weather almost sends the country into meltdown, who knows what four degrees of global warming will do?

The second issue, once it trickles into national consciousness, is just as politically potent: the government's bonfire of regulations.

Flooding soil run off Kemble Thames source
'Mud pours straight off this field near the source of the Thames. Tomorrow it will end up in people's houses.' be Photograph: George Monbiot
Almost as soon as it took office, this government appointed a task force to investigate farming rules. Its chairman was the former director general of the National Farmers' Union. Who could have guessed that he would recommend "an entirely new approach to and culture of regulation … Government must trust industry"? The task force's demands, embraced by Paterson, now look as stupid as Gordon Brown's speech to an audience of bankers in 2004: "In budget after budget I want us to do even more to encourage the risk takers."

Six weeks before the floods arrived, a scientific journal called Soil Use and Management published a paper warning that disaster was brewing. Surface water run-off in south-west England, where the Somerset Levels are situated, was reaching a critical point. Thanks to a wholesale change in the way the land is cultivated, at 38% of the sites the researchers investigated, the water – instead of percolating into the ground – is now pouring off the fields.

Farmers have been ploughing land that was previously untilled and switching from spring to winter sowing, leaving the soil bare during the rainy season. Worst of all is the shift towards growing maize, whose cultivated area in this country has risen from 1,400 hectares to 160,000 since 1970.

In three quarters of the maize fields in the south-west, the soil structure has broken down to the extent that they now contribute to flooding. In many of these fields, soil, fertilisers and pesticides are sloshing away with the water. And nothing of substance, the paper warned, is being done to stop it. Dated: December 2013.

Maize is being grown in Britain not to feed people, but to feed livestock and, increasingly, the biofuel business. This false solution to climate change will make the impacts of climate change much worse, by reducing the land's capacity to hold water.

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The previous government also saw it coming. In 2005 it published a devastating catalogue of the impacts of these changes in land use. As well as the loss of fertility from the land and the poisoning of watercourses, it warned, "increased run-off and sediment deposition can also increase flood hazard in rivers". Maize, it warned, is a particular problem because the soil stays bare before and after the crop is harvested, without the stubble or weeds required to bind it. "Wherever possible," it urged, "avoid growing forage maize on high and very high erosion risk areas."

The Labour government turned this advice into conditions attached to farm subsidies. Ground cover crops should be sown under the maize and the land should be ploughed, then resown with winter cover plants within 10 days of harvesting, to prevent water from sheeting off. So why isn't this happening in Somerset?

Because the current government dropped the conditions. Sorry, not just dropped them. It issued – wait for it – a specific exemption for maize cultivation from all soil conservation measures.

Flooding soil runoff Thames source Kemble
As the water runs off the land, it takes the silt with it. Photograph: George Monbiot
It's hard to get your head round this. The crop which causes most floods and does most damage to soils is the only one which is completely unregulated.

When soil enters a river we call it silt. A few hundred metres from where the soil is running down the hills, a banner over the River Parrett shouts: "Stop the flooding, dredge the rivers." Angry locals assail ministers and officials with this demand. While in almost all circumstances, dredging causes more problems than it solves, and though, as even Owen Paterson admits, "increased dredging of rivers on the Somerset Levels would not have prevented the recent widespread flooding", there's an argument here for a small amount of dredging at strategic points.

But to do it while the soil is washing off the fields is like trying to empty the bath while the taps are running.

soil erosion hi-res
This satellite image, taken on 16 February, shows where our soil goes once it's washed off our fields. Photograph: Dundee Satellite Receiving Station
So why did government policy change? I've tried asking the environment department: they're as much use as a paper sandbag. But I've found a clue. The farm regulation task force demanded a specific change: all soil protection rules attached to farm subsidies should become voluntary. They should be downgraded from a legal condition to an "advisory feature". Even if farmers do nothing to protect their soil, they should still be eligible for public money.

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You might have entertained the naive belief that in handing out billions to wealthy landowners we would get something in return. Something other than endless whining from the National Farmers' Union. But so successfully has policy been captured in this country that Defra – which used to stand for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – now means Doing Everything Farmers' Representatives Ask. We pay £3.6bn a year for the privilege of having our wildlife exterminated, our hills grazed bare, our rivers polluted and our sitting rooms flooded.

Yes, it's a parable all right, a parable of human folly, of the kind that used to end with 300 cubits of gopher wood and a journey to the mountains of Ararat. Antediluvian? You bet it is.

Twitter: @georgemonbiot. A fully referenced version of this article can be found at Monbiot.com
 

RobFZS

Member
only the minority that want to blame someone else for something, george acts asif before the 1960's there was never any flooding, if farmers had made such a mess, this would be a yearly occurrence, not once in a century event covered 24/7 by the media
 

Clive

Staff Member
Arable Farmer
Location
Lichfield
he is wrong about a lot but he is not totally wrong here - we do provide the slit that fills rivers, its beyond deniable and subs like AD maize do encourage practice than makes this worse

not going to repeat myself and posts form the other thread that's running but its about time we took some responsibility for our actions and stopped pretending were are not a PART of this problem that is affecting people
 
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Kevtherev

Member
Location
Welshpool Powys
ImageUploadedByThe Farming Forum1451242173.439252.jpg

Great flood Bristol 1968
 

llamedos

New Member
Think this and the other thread need tagging back on to the Many Somerset Flood threads we had - dont think Monbiot and his environmentalist friends have put their two penneth worth into print yet - too busy living off the fat of the land they so despise no doubt, when they could be shoveling :poop: with the army ooop north
 

Darren

Member
Location
Lincolnshire
Knobs, I mean journalists (very loosely termed) like him love a disaster. It gives them a platform, a sympathetic, albeit unbalanced ear to swallow their propaganda. History is full of theses self styled wanna be Demi gods. The fact of the matter is. Climate change is inevitable. Whether us as a species has accelerated is a moot point. It's been happening since the Big Bang. On the other hand we all have to accept responsibility. Be it a company harvesting 000's of hectares of AD maize, the old dear in the street putting a paved drive down instead of grass, not to mention 99.9 % of the population who think it's a God given right to cheap food, cheap living, cheap travel to Sir Clive of TFF burning fuel whilst racing. It all adds up.
As a species though We do not like to accept blame and would rather point out the follies of others rather than start by setting the example of getting ones own house in order.

Truth is these weather patterns are on the increase. So unless we all start singing from the same hymn sheet and doing our bit, no matter how small we'll always be on the back foot.

My pedigree chums it's time to unite, help each other to help ourselves.

Monibot is still a blinkered rooster though.
 

RimmerF140

Member
Yes I suppose I do agree that maize land can be a problem especially in wet years. But in this context it's a drop in the ocean!!

Plus he's totally contradicting himself. The rivers are silted up, yes I agree, (vast majority not caused by maize though), yet apparently dredging would make it worse. Bet in a lot of places the capacity of rivers could be doubled by dredging
 

Goweresque

Member
Location
North Wilts
There's one simple question to ask the likes of GM - are you prepared to ban the import of any food into the UK that wasn't produced under the standards you demand from UK farmers? Because if they aren't then they are massive hypocrites - demanding UK farmers produce food under rules that do not apply to imports (and thus will go out of business en mass) while they stuff their faces with cheap food that wasn't produced here or under our rules. If they are prepared to call for import bans, then happy days, because UK farming would then have a captive market, and prices would reflect production costs - they'd have to or there would be no food. Of course all that would mean leaving the EU, which might make GM's head explode at the contradiction between ideas, but thats a plus point.
 

Old Tip

Member
Location
Cumbria
Nicely put @Goweresque but the twit contradicts himself in virtually every article he writes. The other day he was blaming hill farmers for all the flooding and saying we all should plant trees on the hills and get no subs for agricultural as that money should go for paying the farmers on the best land to grow veg to feed the nation. Then a few weeks later he's blaming ploughed land for the floods as the soil us silting up the rivers, not much veg grown without ploughing as far as I am aware. The bloke just wants to kick us where it hurts and doesn't care it's a load of rubbish most of the time.
 

Cowabunga

Member
Location
Ceredigion,Wales
Nicely put @Goweresque but the twit contradicts himself in virtually every article he writes. The other day he was blaming hill farmers for all the flooding and saying we all should plant trees on the hills and get no subs for agricultural as that money should go for paying the farmers on the best land to grow veg to feed the nation. Then a few weeks later he's blaming ploughed land for the floods as the soil us silting up the rivers, not much veg grown without ploughing as far as I am aware. The bloke just wants to kick us where it hurts and doesn't care it's a load of rubbish most of the time.
That's about the gist of it. The man is a professional Troll who can't get over the fact that he couldn't hack it and wasn't generally accepted in a rural area. That's if you can possibly call the middle of a fair size town like Machynlleth 'rural'.
No, he's a real 'townie' that pretends he's some kind of authority or expert. He's patently not. He's just one more literate idiot bordering on the lunatic fringe. Its a fine line and he's right on the border of losing his balance and falling off.
 

beefboy

Member
Location
South Wales
I saw a live interview of an old timer up North yesterday who said that they had flood problems like this in the 50's and a grand scheme of dredging drainage chanels and rivers was adopted nationally, that improved things greatly. That is until the 80's when it was transferred to local authority responsibility and funding has slowly dwindled since until we are back in the same situation as 60yrs ago.

Of course, as he was talking sense, his interview hasn't been aired since.

Whilst you will never stop all flooding, IMHO if waterways were maintained properly we wouldn't have half the mess we have now. Silted up rivers backs the water upstream which heightens the water table, so the land cannot take the water as it has virtually no capacity. Simples.

The time for action is dredging in dry periods, making ready for wet times, not wait until theres six foot of water and have useless politicians saying they're doing everything possible to help.

YOU'RE SIX MONTHS TOO LATE MATE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 

Cowabunga

Member
Location
Ceredigion,Wales
he is wrong about a lot but he is not totally wrong here - we do provide the slit that fills rivers, its beyond deniable and subs like AD maize do encourage practice than makes this worse

not going to repeat myself and posts form the other thread that's running but its about time we took some responsibility for our actions and stopped pretending were are not a PART of this problem that is affecting people
Lot's of maize grown in those northern flood hit areas is there? Enough to silt up major rivers in the three or four years that digesters have been fed by maize in those areas?

Hmm! :scratchhead:

I think not.
 

Goweresque

Member
Location
North Wilts
That's about the gist of it. The man is a professional Troll who can't get over the fact that he couldn't hack it and wasn't generally accepted in a rural area. That's if you can possibly call the middle of a fair size town like Machynlleth 'rural'.
No, he's a real 'townie' that pretends he's some kind of authority or expert. He's patently not. He's just one more literate idiot bordering on the lunatic fringe. Its a fine line and he's right on the border of losing his balance and falling off.

Unfortunately in this day and age, lunatics get listened to, especially by the Left. The Left are always looking for ideas that reinforce their pre-existing prejudices, and it matters little to them whether those ideas are based in reality or fantasy.
 

Clive

Staff Member
Arable Farmer
Location
Lichfield
Lot's of maize grown in those northern flood hit areas is there? Enough to silt up major rivers in the three or four years that digesters have been fed by maize in those areas?

Hmm! :scratchhead:

I think not.

As in my post I don't wish to repeat what I've said on the other very similar thread - but in summary I have said the current floods are not down to slit more extreme weather plus mismanagement however other floods and future flood have and will be though in large parts down to slit (our soil) that we need to do more to keep out of water courses
 

pellow

Member
Location
Newquay
GM must crave attention and throwing sh**e around gets it for him, and there is always some easy marks who are wound up and looking for answers who will listen to the person who shouts the loudest. Jason Manford seems to be one of them
 

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