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Ministers failing to fund natural flood measures, reveals Friends of the Earth

news release

Nearly one year on from last winter’s devastating floods, ministers have failed to deliver on repeated promises to support natural flood management (NFM), like planting trees to reduce flood risk, Friends of the Earth reveals today.

A Freedom of Information request by Friends of the Earth to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) reveals that “at the time of writing there is no funding earmarked specifically for Natural Flood Management”. [1]

Yet over the past year there have been numerous indications that the government would introduce natural flood management schemes. This includes:

•  Promises from ministers to fund NFM measures;
•  A £700 million pot of funding announced in this year’s Budget for ‘innovative’ flood defence measures;
• Recommendations by civil servants for specific NFM projects for funding.

Former Floods Minister Rory Stewart stated to the Environmental Audit Committee in April this year:

“What we are looking for with the additional £700 million is an opportunity to do things that either are more difficult to measure, so the key example of that… is natural flood alleviation, [such as the] planting of trees”.

Responding to questions from MPs about funding sources for natural flood management, he later added [2]:

“You can look at accessing some of the money that comes out of the £700 million that we have been discussing earlier.”

Friends of the Earth understands that Rory Stewart earmarked £20 million for natural flood defences before he left DEFRA in the June reshuffle this year.

A former senior official at the Environment Agency has confirmed to Friends of the Earth [3] that “Defra have commissioned us to provide them with a set of proposed Natural Flood Management work packages totalling £20m.” But there has been no sign of this money since.

Despite this, current Ministers have continued to talk up natural flood management without offering funding for it.

Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom, in a recent letter to environmental charities [4], confirmed: “I fully support natural defence initiatives such as planting trees, which can slow the flow of water”.

Current floods minister Therese Coffey has similarly written to NGOs [5], assuring them: “We are determined that natural flood management solutions are fairly assessed and supported where they offer a viable way of reducing the damaging impacts of flooding.” Yet the government’s ‘catchment pioneer project’[6] in Cumbria remains unfunded.

The environmental campaign group, alongside new charity Rewilding Britain, is calling on the Chancellor to announce at least £20million for natural flood defences in this month’s Autumn Statement.

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole said:

“Last winter’s floods were a powerful reminder that we need to work with nature to reduce flood risk – and ministers wholeheartedly agreed.

“But so far it’s been all talk and no action – the government has failed to spend a single extra penny on natural flood management.

“Ministers must replace warm words with hard cash and announce a pot of at least £20million for natural flood defence in this year’s Autumn Statement. Anything less will be a betrayal of the communities that flooded so terribly last winter.”

Helen Meech, Director of Rewilding Britain, said:

“With one in six properties in the UK currently at risk of flooding, a ratio that will only increase as our climate changes over coming decades, it is time to rethink our approach to managing flood risk.

“There is now significant evidence to show that rewilding can substantially reduce flood risk downstream, protecting communities at a fraction of the cost of traditional flood defences, whilst also delivering improved water quality and space for nature to thrive.

“As Government considers new approaches to management of Britain’s natural environment post-Brexit, we feel it is high-time we invested in making space for water, for the benefit of both people and wildlife.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

1. Defra FOI response to Friends of the Earth.

2. Former Floods Minister Rory Stewart MP, EAC evidence session, 13th April 2016.

3. Correspondence passed to Friends of the Earth – available on request.

4. Environment Secretary’s letter to NGOs.

5. Flood Minister Therese Coffey’s letter to NGOs – available on request.

6. Catchment pioneer project in Cumbria.

7. How rewildling reduces flood risk | Rewilding Britain.

For press information please contact the Friends of the Earth media team on 020 7566 1649.

Published by Friends of the Earth Trust

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