NFU warns flood defence for Fens 'inadequate'

Harvest Image copyright Ieuan Williams
Image caption About 13,400 people are directly employed in the Fens' farms

Government support for flood defence projects in the "breadbasket of Britain" is "inadequate", the National Farmers Union (NFU) has said.

Much of the 1,500 sq miles (241 sq km) of the Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Lincolnshire Fens is below sea level.

The NFU report calls for "flood and coastal risk management that prioritises farmers and food manufacturing".

The Environment Agency said "millions" was being invested in flood protection.

Image copyright Tim Scrivener
Image caption The Fens is a major centre for renewable energy, including wind and solar power and the UK's first straw-fuelled power station

The farmland, which the NFU says produces a third of England's vegetables and a fifth of its potatoes, is home to 500,000 people.

The NFU says climate change poses a serious threat to the area, both in terms of floods and drought.

Vice-president Stuart Roberts said: "One of the big challenges is around water and we have some of the most water intensive crops.

"Much of it is beneath sea level and the way we manage water needs more investment in years to come."

Image copyright Gary Naylor Photography
Image caption The sea bank at Wrangle, Lincolnshire, has been strengthened and raised after it was breached in 2013

The Fens in numbers

  • The Fens' food chain "from field to fork" is worth £3.1bn
  • It grows 21% of England's bulbs and flowers
  • 428,000 homes can be run off Fens-generated renewable energy
  • 90% of Fens' farmland is the best quality - grade 1 or 2

Source: NFU

The man-made landscape is "protected by 100 miles of sea and flood defences and about 4,000 miles of internal drainage board ditches", according to farmer Michael Sly, from Thorney in Cambridgeshire.

But if the farmland is flooded by the sea, salt will leave it unproductive for at least five years.

Environment Agency flood risk manager Paul Burrows said: "It's an unprecedented, complex problem.

"But we're doing lots of works, including major multi-million pound investments in reservoirs at the Whittlesey and Ouse washes, at Denver and Barton Mills sluices and creating new, internal pumping stations."

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was providing £2.6 billion capital funding over six years and £1 billion for flood defence maintenance.

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