By Peter Smith, Chief Executive of the Wildwood Trust

"It took the death of school children in a catastrophic flood event to shock the Dutch authorities to really tackle flooding on the Rhine; one of their answers was to stop farming on floodplains and to create a giant natural wetland, managed by wild horses, to prevent this tragedy from happening again."
 
As rivers across the UK are bursting their banks, another media storm has broken over who is responsible for the cause of the UK's flooding problem. Many farmers have attacked the lack of drainage and flood defences along rivers while river scientists and ecological experts point to deeper problems in our river catchments, meaning the instalment of flood defences and dredging of rivers could end up in catastrophic flooding further downstream, a tragedy that could threaten human life."

Changes in farming and land use has resulted in a dramatic decrease in floodplains left along our rivers, so there is nowhere for the water to go. This, combined with a massive increase of drainage of farmland in river catchments, means water now gushes off land straight into the rivers.
One of the best and cheapest answers to address this problem is the reintroduction of natural wetland species such as European beaver and wild horses to the UK which would promote the natural restoration of nature's own flood defences; similar in many ways to initiatives currently run by the Wildwood Trust near Canterbury, but on a much larger scale.
The wetlands of Britain used to act as a giant sponge, soaking up rainfall and releasing it slowly into our rivers, protecting us from catastrophic flooding, but this natural defence has been all but wiped out.
In recent times we have spent an increasing amount of money to destroy our wetlands, to build and maintain a massive system of drains at the taxpayer's expense. The cruel irony is that 'flood defences' only make the problem worse further down the river. Planning has also encouraged the building of more and more housing on floodplains which then in turn need to be defended from inevitable flooding.
Successive Governments have channelled hundreds of millions of pounds of tax payers' money every year into agricultural subsidies and 'drainage' works that are directly responsible for the catastrophic flooding seen over the last few weeks.
 
Wildwood's five point plan to save the taxpayer money and prevent catastrophic flooding in our towns & villages:
  • Rewild marginal farmland, uplands and floodplain. Just as many European countries have seen catastrophic flooding they have rewilded areas that act a giant sponges soaking up flood waters.
  • Stop agricultural subsidy of marginal farmland so it can be returned to the wild & save the taxpayer billions of pounds.
  • Return beavers to the UK and allow them to act as natural wetland managers (like wild horses do on conservation sites) to maintain our wetlands at no cost to taxpayers.
  • Create natural wetland networks in urban areas to act as flood stores.
  • Shift taxes off of earned incomes and onto Land Values and natural resources to make it economically feasible to revert marginal farmland back to natural areas.
 
Peter Smith, Wildwood Trust Chief Executive said:
"Along the Rhine in the  Netherlands and  Germany  they have already addressed this issue by  re-creating wetlands, while at the same time providing safety for homes and communities."
"It took the death of school children in a catastrophic flood event to shock the Dutch authorities to really tackle flooding on the Rhine; one of their answers was to stop farming on floodplains and to create a giant natural wetland, managed by wild horses, to prevent this tragedy from happening again."
"When will Britain wake up and see that we need to tackle the root cause of the flooding problem?  It's time we stopped the squabbling by selfish vested interests whose only real goals are to reap the benefits of ever more taxpayer investment or campaigning for flood waters to be rushed on further downstream to flood someone else's house."
"We have created a perverse system of agricultural subsidies and drainage systems that guarantee we will see flooding getting worse, and that system is using taxpayers' money to destroy wildlife and the wild places that once formed our natural flood defence system."
"With no wetlands, trees or undeveloped flood plains to stop this water, it rushes off fields into drainage systems, maintained at the taxpayers' expense, and is funnelled into rivers where it creates the devastating problems witnessed this winter."
"We must stop wasting money on drainage schemes, agricultural subsidies and building on floodplains and instead spend far less taxpayers' money on re-establishing natural wetlands."
"This can be achieved for a fraction of cost that taxpayers are already incurring, save us billions in the future and will create a carbon sink to help neutralise climate change and give our future generations a natural heritage to be proud of."
 
How European beaver can protect us from flooding:
Beavers were hunted to extinction in the UK in the 17th century for their pelts, their meat and their musk glands, which had medicinal properties.
Beavers can and do dramatically change the landscape. The beaver is a keystone species –their skills as foresters and engineers create and maintain ponds and wetlands that increase biodiversity, purify water and prevent large-scale flooding. 
Scientists estimate that in America restoring only 3 percent of the original beaver created wetlands, might suffice to prevent catastrophic floods; the same could be true for the UK.
Scottish Natural Heritage's director of science, Colin Galbraith, said:
"More than 20 other countries, including France, Germany and Denmark have reintroduced beavers and the experience has been very positive. Beavers fit into the landscape very well and in places like Brittany they have become part of the environment, with minimal damage to agriculture and other interests.  Beaver dams would improve water quality, produce new habitats for fish and help reduce flooding downstream."