THE Environment Agency has met with farmers to answer questions about river maintenance, as many farms still struggle with flooded land.

MP for Thirsk, Malton and Filey, Anne McIntosh, organised the meeting with the agency's Yorkshire manager, Mark Scott on Thursday (February 21), to push for an improved arrangement for river maintenance as farmland still bears the brunt of months of exceptionally heavy rain.

Also at the meeting, held at Thirsk Rural Business Centre in North Yorkshire, was the NFU and Country Landowners Association.

Ms McIntosh called for improved dredging and maintenance of waterways to prevent the continued flooding of productive farmland.

Poor management of drainage ditches and watercourses has been blamed for crop damage and in many cases, prevented crops from being sown during recent downpours. Coupled with other rising costs currently hitting the industry, the NFU warned of a ‘real emergency’ facing farming towards the end of last year.

Ms McIntosh said in one area of her constituency, a group of farmers in the Vale of Pickering were paying £60,000 a year via the Internal Drainage Board to the Environment Agency for river maintenance, but there was no assurance that money was being spent on rivers that threatened their own farmland.

She was calling for money paid to the Internal Drainage Board (IDB) for river maintenance to be ring-fenced locally, so landowners’ contributions were used directly to prevent their land flooding.

She said: “If that work isn’t done then water comes back up the minor channels and spills out on to farmland. They’re paying this money and they don’t see it back in the rural areas.” She also called for funds to protect farmland, saying: “The other issue we face is food security. If you’re taking prime agricultural land out of use, that should be recognised.”

Mr Scott said they would consider localised flooding projects if land could be found that provided ‘multiple benefit’. But he said simply dredging river beds was not a solution to flooding. He explained that deepening the river bed reduced the velocity of the river and the slower flow of water scoured silt from the riverbed less effectively.

He said they also had to prioritise where they concentrated their resources, saying; “We have not stopped dredging but we concentrate dredging now to where we can clearly demonstrate there’s a flood risk benefit.”

Mr Scott said Yorkshire had already received half the Government’s pot of funding for flood defences.

He said: “The Yorkshire area has just received half of the Government’s £120m because of Leeds, Sheffield and the accelerated growth of Skipton. That’s money on top of what they normally get. Yorkshire made a bid for that money.”

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Scott said he was very happy with the Environment Agency response to repeated floods and exceptionally heavy rainfall over the last few months.

“We have protected and warned more people over the course of this season than at any other time in our history.”