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Prevent flooding, eat beef

By Rosewood Farm, Dec 29 2015 04:10PM

If you've followed us for some time, either here on this blog or over on our facebook page, you're probably already fed up of hearing me banging on about how important the Ings are to our wildlife. However, recent events have highlighted the second great advantage of the Ings - flood prevention. If you're unfamiliar, 'Ings' is an old Norse word meaning a series of floodplain meadows and marshes and we have the largest remaining area of them here in the Lower Derwent Valley.

The recent events, first in Cumbria, Lancashire and now York, has really brought the flooding issue, literally, to (and for the unfortunate ones, beyond) our front doors. We've seen the blame being rolled out faster than the sandbags, with everyone from farmers to the Environment Agency being accused of not preventing these catastrophic floods.

My Great Grandfather first moved the family to 'Ings Farm' in the Hull Valley, almost a century ago. They then went on to take the tenancy of the neighbouring Gibraltar Farm. The river Hull was a part of every day life there with a small private ferry boat to carry people and produce across the river to the city of Hull. Flooding made the surrounding alluvial floodplain pastures into a rich, fertile plain for grazing dairy cattle and had been farmed since at least pre-Roman times.

Gibraltar Farm
Gibraltar Farm

Constructed on a small, raised platform, the buildings were elevated slightly above surrounding floodwater but almost all traces of the two farms have since been destroyed. The farm was, out of necessity, designed to cope with flooding, in a way that I highly doubt the 'Kingswood' shopping centre that now occupies the site has been!

For us today, over here in the Lower Derwent Valley, flooding is still very much a part of our lives and the farming year. Although the farm is on higher ground some two miles away from the river, we rely upon the floodplain meadows for feeding our animals. The cattle and sheep are important for the maintenance of the meadows too, by cutting for hay and grazing to remove the abundance of summer growth that would otherwise clog up ditches and prevent the water draining away again when the floods recede.

From pasture to lake in a matter of hours
From pasture to lake in a matter of hours

Many floodplains use artificial drainage to make pastures suitable for both cultivation and building. As we have seen in the recent York floods, pumped solutions such as the Foss barrier bring about a false sense of security and are vulnerable to failure. Here in the Derwent Valley, drainage relies upon natural outfall when the river is low enough. One way flood gates are a low-tech solution which helps to prevent water discharging from the river into the Ings while it is still within it's banks.

One-way flood gates keep water in the river while it is within it's banks
One-way flood gates keep water in the river while it is within it's banks

If we are to develop long term solutions to flooding we need to reevaluate and restore our water meadows and have a bit more respect for the landscape we call home. Hard flood defenses in our towns and cities create bottlenecks and they will only work if the water has an alternative place to go.

Livestock are essential to the management and productivity of floodplains and have the advantage of being portable in the event of flooding. However, just like the floodwater, the cattle and sheep too need somewhere to go when the waters rise. If just some of the flood defence budget could be diverted towards improving winter housing on local livestock farms it would greatly help us to preserve more floodplain meadows intact. Fortunately, we don't need to wait for aid - by eating the meat produced on these floodplains you can directly support the work and ensure that both the water, and the cattle, has somewhere safe to go.

Don't worry - we moved the cattle on Saturday, away from the floodwater!
Don't worry - we moved the cattle on Saturday, away from the floodwater!

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