UK: Minister Moves to Allay Fears Over Dredging
The Natural Environment and Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, has moved to calm a growing storm of protest in response to reports that the Secretary of State Owen Paterson had instructed the Environment Agency to prepare options for the deregulation of river dredging to assist farmers and landowners reduce agricultural flood risks.
The Angling Trust secured an urgent meeting with Mr Benyon in his constituency, rather than waiting weeks for a slot in the Defra ministers diary, in order to convey the concerns of anglers, fishery owners and conservation and wildlife groups that the government was about to rip up decades of environmental protection and return to the bad old practices of turning once natural rivers into drainage ditches.
The Environment Agency had been asked by Mr Paterson to consider how it can make it easier for farmer and landowners to undertake their own watercourse maintenance in response to some strong lobbying by the National Farmers Union (NFU) in the aftermath of last years’ heavy rainfall and flooding.
Mr Paterson is reported as telling the South West Agricultural Conference last month, in response to a question from Charles Mann the NFU County chair:
“A directive went out from EA in 2006 that low risk agricultural water courses were not to be touched. A misguided idea that this was helping wildlife. I want to make it as easy as possible for land owners to get a licence to carry out local maintenance. The purpose of waterways is to get rid of water.”
Mr Benyon has now written to Angling Trust Campaigns Chief Martin Salter to clarify the government’s position and to confirm that ‘a wholesale deregulation is absolutely NOT what we are doing.’
Martin Salter said:
“Whilst we welcome these assurances from Richard Benyon the government has only got itself to blame for its hamfisted, knee-jerk attempt to make policy changes in a highly sensitive area without either a formal announcement of intent or proper consultation. The UK government is fully signed up to a whole raft of environmental protections for our rivers including the Water Framework and Habitats Directives. Any attempt to weaken these and allow a return the dark days of the 60s and 70s when land drainage engineers were allowed to wreak havoc with natural rivers and streams at the expense of fisheries and the wider environment would be fought all the way to the courts by the Angling Trust and our partner organisations.”
He added: “It’s a shame Mr Paterson didn’t find time to check the EAs own website which has a very handy guide explaining why dredging is rarely effective in preventing flood damage and often causes other problems elsewhere in the catchment.”
Press Release, May 23, 2013