The floods that devastated the UK in the winter of 2015 have caused unprecedented damage to Britain’s farms. It’s estimated the storm Desmond washed at least 1,000 sheep downstream in Cumbria, and the NFU have estimated that farmers’ costs for damage could amount to at least £100 million.
Although the government has made £540 million available for flood defence repairs, grants of just £5,000 have been difficult to obtain. Worse, the NFU estimate that only 5% of grants have reached their intended recipients.
Farms in the North, Midlands and South West have all been battered by storms and flooding over the last few years, with Scotland and Wales also seeing extensive damage. It seems that, as a result of climate change, any property is now at risk from flooding.
The government is currently investing heavily in flood defences, including temporary defences for the worst-hit areas and improved flood modelling. Farmers may also be given a grant to allow their land to flood – an ancient form of flood defence that may protect urban areas from flood damage.
The impact on crops would be minimal, as Britain already imports most of its food from abroad. However, NFU deputy-president Minette Batters said the scheme should be properly planned and not simply delivered ad hoc.
There is a current arrangement between government and the insurance industry that, in light of recent heavy flooding, appropriate insurance be kept affordable. An insurance-related request letter and a flood risk assessment are both useful weapons if your insurance company unreasonably raises your premiums.
By being pro-active – signing up for flood warnings, joining the National Flood Forum and installing your own anti-flood defences, including submersible pumps – you may also reduce your premiums.
If you’ve been forced to leave your farm during a flood and have been given official clearance to return, there are a number of measures you’ll need to take.
First, conduct a full assessment of the entire property. Identify areas of contaminated water and hazards such as chemical spills or downed power lines. If you discover the latter, avoid contact with water and phone the authorities immediately. If you detect gas, phone your power company immediately.
Take a full inventory and take photographs for insurance purposes. Damaged machinery will need to be thoroughly cleaned and lubricated. Stay safe during your clean-up – wear appropriate protective clothing like rubber boots and gloves.
Even after weeks of dry weather, your land may not drain as it once did. The water table may have changed permanently as a result of flooding, so installing a submersible pump makes sense to drain the land. You’ll need to dig a sump pit, lined with concrete if you intend this to be a permanent measure or a plastic liner if the pit is temporary, creating a low point at which water can collect.
The submersible pump should be rated to handle dirty water and have a float switch that automatically cuts power to the pump once the water has fallen below a certain level. Equip yourself with the most powerful pump you can afford – Grundfos are a reliable brand – and then bury the hose that bears water away from the sump. Take extra precautions using electrical pumps in floodwater conditions.
Depending on where you intend to pump the water to, you must have the relevant permit. The fire brigade is a smart first port of call, as they’ll be able to advise you on the correct authorities to contact.
If you’re farming in a high-risk area, it pays to plan ahead and develop a flood plan. First, sign up for flood warnings so that you’re always well informed about potential risk.
Stock up on non-perishable food and clean drinking water, and check your insurance documents to ensure you are fully covered. Prepare an inventory with photos and ensure that all important documents are properly stored and protected by a waterproof case.
Store all important equipment such as machinery, pumps and chemicals on high ground. Reinforce your buildings with flood-resistant materials and stockpile emergency materials. Then plan an escape route if necessary.
Start by identifying an area of higher ground or by creating a flood refuge. Encourage your livestock to use it even when there is no flooding risk so they are familiar with the terrain.
Once a flood alert is issued, move bulls, stallions and livestock with young to the refuge.
Identify areas that are prone to flooding and minimise your planting in these areas. You may even prefer to set these aside under the government’s planned flooding scheme.
Good farming practices are essential to minimise the inevitable spread of weeds and invasive plants after flooding. Ensure you keep weeds under control, preferably as organically as possible to avoid contamination.
Flooding can be devastating, impacting not only on your livelihood but on your personal life. Therefore, it pays to be prepared to deal with flood conditions, and the first line of defence is adequate pumping.