Habitat Management

Deliberate Flooding of the Somerset Levels

EADT Column – Published 18th February 2014 

Who is responsible for the Somerset floods crisis?  By Stuart Agnew MEP – Eastern Counties, UK Independence Party

The Environmental Agency (EA) took over the National Rivers Authority in 1996 and virtually stopped all dredging activity. River boards, dedicated river engineers and 240 local flood defence committees all came under EA control. The EA and its advisory body, Natural England put most of our rivers under the Sites of Special Scientific Interest, which forms part of the EU’s Habitat Directive. This is when the EA began to put the Great Crested Newt and other environmental priorities ahead of local people and their property.

The EU has left it to the member states to make their own plans for flood prevention. However, it generated major legislation, no fewer than six directives affecting flood control. None explicitly prevents the EA from undertaking flood prevention work, but this legislation seriously complicates matters and uses ambiguous language. It also encourages the EA’s environmental obsessions. All this additional bureaucracy prevents swift, practical action on flooding. The EU legislation also considerably adds to the EA’s costs.

The EU’s Waste Framework Directive also plays a major role by placing severe restrictions on the disposal of dredged spoil from the rivers and cost has become the driving force controlling dredging maintenance of the UK’s rivers. A recent Freedom of Information request revealed that the EA spent £2.4 million last year on PR but would not spend the £1.7m it would have cost to dredge the rivers Tone and Parrett in Somerset. EA Chairman, Lord Smith, has blamed the Treasury for implementing strict spending controls which only allowed his quango to spend £400,000 on dredging in Somerset.

It is evident that the Government, its departments and the quangos are all playing a tasteless game of pass the parcel over responsibility for the crisis. The reality is that the EU, the EA and the Government must share the blame, because they all played a part. However, the blame game does not help the victims of this horrendous bureaucratic logjam, many of whom have lost their homes and/or their livelihoods. It is iniquitous that the Government will pour £11.6 billion into overseas aid in 2014, while lack of funding will leave residents and businesses in Somerset flooded out for months on end.

Dredging by itself may not have prevented the Somerset floods but the EA’s own computer modelling demonstrated that, if the carrying capacity of the rivers Parrett and Tone were restored from its existing 60% to a potential of around 90%, the severity of flood
events would be: ‘significantly reduced’.

An all-party inquiry is now needed, taking evidence from those who know the facts, including local people. The imposition of a legally binding mandate on the Environment Agency should follow, together with ring-fenced funding, to restore land drainage and
river dredging to their proper levels.



A very European disaster - The Somerset Levels Flooding - Political aspects of the flooding, winter 2013-14 

Richard North - 7 March 2014



Britains Flooding Disaster is being driven by EU policy 

Christopher Booker - Sunday Telegraph - 9 February 2014



How the Flooding of Somerset was Deliberately Engineered

Christopher Booker - Sunday Telegraph - 23 February 2014



Esher Common - a dispute with English Nature 24.9.05

Esher Commons Interests Committee (ECIC)

23rd September 2005

Dear Friend,


The Esher Commons 360 hectares (885 acres) were purchased as public pleasure grounds for the benefit of the local community during the period 1920-24 and have always been predominantly woodland, through containing some heathland and grassland. The first SSSI designation was made in 1955, followed by a revision in 1975 when the A3 Esher by-pass was built through it, then by a more thorough one in 1986. Until about 1997 there were no attempts by our local Elmbridge Borough Council to indulge in large-scale tree felling. However, over the last 8 years, the Forestry Commission has authorised the felling of more than 10,000 trees on what is wholly Common land without any prior public consultation.

It is now evident that our local EBC has been operating effectively as the local branch of English Nature during this period. The Forestry Commission (with whom ECIC has been in close contact for the past 6 months) was unaware that EBC was not consulting with its local residents and users of the Esher Commons about its tree felling intentions. Now, as you see from the 2 pages of A4 which follow on the attachment, we are concentrating our efforts on getting the Forestry Commission to refuse a felling licence and the FC has already received by e-mail and response slips at the foot of our letter well in excess of 500 replies, the like of which is unprecedented in the experience of Mr Patrick Stephens.From our contact with him on 22 September it seems that such a refusal is one possible outcome, another being a series of negotiations to ascertain whether a mutually acceptable solution can be achieved (rather improbably in the view of ECIC, given local residents’ mistrust of Elmbridge BC and English Nature).

As we believe our case has implications for other groups fighting unwelcome initiatives by English Nature (and CCW) we are writing to invite you to e-mail Mr Patrick Stephens (details shown in our letter) or write to him by post so he receives it by 30 September at the latest. His full address is Forestry Commission, S.E England Conservancy, Alice Holt, Wrecclesham, Farnham, Surrey, GU10 4LF.

Major Jim Hersey, Alan Holloway and others in the Formby group concerned about Sefton and Ainsdale have already e-mailed Patrick Stephens for which we are most appreciative.

We shall be very grateful if you feel able to do likewise.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Matthews

Co-ordinator, ECIC.

1st September 2005

Dear Supporter,


We were pleased that you were one of the numerous supporters of our campaign to oppose the large scale felling of trees on the Esher Commons proposed by English Nature and Elmbridge BC officers.

Following a vote in favour of implementing the plan by a minority of 22 out of 60 Elmbridge councillors on 24 May 2005, we are now concentrating our efforts in persuading the Forestry Commission not to issue the essential tree felling licence. The Forestry Commission’s mission statement reads:

Protecting and expanding England’s forests and woodlands, and increasing their value to society and the environment.

Forestry Commission statistics reveal that more than 10,000 trees have been the subject of felling authority over the last 8 years on the Esher Commons. Our estimates indicate that upwards of another 50,000 trees could be at risk of felling over the next five years if a felling licence was to be issued and the EN/EBC plan for near clear felling over the proposed 22.6 hectares was to proceed.

Thus your help is now urgently required .The requisite Public Notice has appeared (31 August copy reproduced), and objectors have just 28 days in which to write in and register their objections on the basis of reasoned arguments. You may wish to do so choosing your own form of words. Alternatively, you may wish to select one or more phrases from the menu shown overleaf. Most of this varied collection has been taken from comments written in on a majority of the 1800 cards received.

If you now have access to e-mail you can send your reply to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Please copy to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) If not, please put your reply in the enclosed freepost envelope* and ECIC will ensure that all timely replies are taken to Mr Patrick Stephens within the 28 day deadline.

Please act now in order to prevent further unwanted tree felling on the Esher Commons comprising Arbrook, Esher, Fairmile, Oxshott, West End and Winterdown Woods. Your cooperation is essential if we are to have any hope of persuading the Forestry Commission to withhold the granting of a felling licence on the basis of strong local opposition among users and local residents who value highly the still existing woodland amenities of our Common land. This was bought more than 80 years ago for public recreation and the benefit of the local community. Please bring this to the attention of any friend/other family members if they share your views, even if they live outside Elmbridge and/or did not reply to our Defend Our Esher Commons campaign earlier.

Thank you.

* not included for those of you giving e-mail addressed to ECIC previously.

Mr Patrick Stephens, Case Officer for Esher Commons, Forestry Commission, S.E England Conservancy

I/we name(s) _____________
(NB state number in family if more than one)
Address ____________________________________
Postcode _______

Wish to object to the English Nature/Elmbridge BC plan for the felling of a large number of trees over 22.6 hectares on the Esher Commons for the following reason(s):




The tree cover on the Esher Commons has already been reduced with more than 10,000 felled during the last 8 years, without prior public consultation - inexcusable!

We have walked in the woods for many years. The tree felling programme is a disaster, because it is done so badly. The land is abandoned, not restored to a heath.

EBC should be made to demonstrate satisfactory countryside management skills in previously -cleared areas before any further tree clearances are considered.

The woodlands are one of the area's greatest assets and beauty and are a major reason for living here. It would be criminal to demolish such an asset which is enjoyed by so many people of all ages and walks of life for miles around.

To bulldoze over the wishes of the majority of people who actually walk the Commons daily is a disgrace and an affront to democracy.

EBC should remember " Conservation is the preservation of the natural environment".

We need our trees for our health!

I object most strongly to the systematic and anti-social clear felling of trees in all parts of the Commons. The Commons were bought as pleasure grounds for the public. EBC is ignoring this responsibility.

I frequently use the Commons with my family for walking/cycling and would be appalled by the large scale felling of trees.

As naturalists, we totally condemn the Council's ill-conceived plan to fell trees on the scale proposed. We promise it will be held to account.

We ought to preserve the woodland for future generations

Previous areas cleared look a complete mess and do nothing for the Commons.

Why? Why are they doing this - don't want heathland, want trees, freedom to run and walk the dog, not restricted areas.

The Esher Commons were bought for the benefit of the local community with the trees and woodland being their most important amenity.

We are most concerned about noise pollution. Also concerned about air pollution and loss of visual amenity.

We are daily walkers and are appalled at the Council's blitzing of our woods.

We understand the need to manage trees. However, we note that during previous 'clearance' only quality timber was felled, leaving behind thin straggly, poor specimens. Now we have a proliferation of brambles, nettles and bracken.

I would prefer to see the council maintain the woodlands, i.e. clear brambles etc, rather than fell trees.

I am vehemently opposed to anything which will (a) increase the risk of flooding in the area, i.e. raising the water-table and (b) increase pollution.

Oxshott Woods is an integral part of Oxshott life. 

Rather than felling trees, we should have a plan for sustained woodland management - surely that is conservation!

We do not want any further increase in heathland.

The proposed scheme would totally destroy our best local amenity.

The appalling state of previously-cleared areas and the lack of woodland management in the rest of the Commons stand as testament to EBC‚ incompetence in countryside management.

Further large-scale felling of trees on the Esher Commons would be incompatible with the mission statement of the Forestry Commission.

Esher Common - dispute with English Nature

The ESA Experience - Sept 05 update

The ESA Experience

The author, Paul Haskins, has given permission to have this article distributed.

Paul Haskins looks at the Effects of an Environmentally Sensitive Area Scheme on the Welfare of Grazing Livestock

The management of sheep must remain the domain of shepherds, not academics, bureaucrats or the pantheon of non-farming experts taking an interest in the countryside - Paul Haskins

British Agriculture seems to be entering an increasingly unnatural regime. As financial support from the public purse has more strings attached, the people pulling the strings arc further removed from agriculture. Specialists from quite narrow disciplines can now influence how farmers manage their businesses. I am concerned about the implications for animal welfare and so I wish to record my experience of farming in the Upper Thames Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) for ten years. There were many good aspects to the ESA but here I am going to focus on animal welfare problems.

Almost half of my farm, 176 acres, was eligible for entry to the Scheme at its inception in 1994. The northern boundary of the farm is formed by the river Thames for over a mile and the Scheme covered the riparian river meadows in the flood plain and one more field away from the river as the land rose up. The higher fields were Integrated Administration and Control system (IACS) registered arable land.

The land fell into three different tiers of the ESA. Permanent pasture was either in 1B or 2 (wetland), where a ditch was bunded to deliberately raise water levels. The arable land was planted in grass to become 3A (arable reversion).

Quality Herbage

The predominantly heavy Oxford Clay soil on this farm had always provided good crops of quality herbage without very intensive management. The impact of joining the ESA was less on the permanent grass than on the arable reversion land.

The grass mixtures specified for the arable reversion tier were difficult to establish and of very poor palatability to sheep. The wide range of restrictions on management during the establishment period exacerbated the difficulty of producing the desired balance between grass species of varied growth habits. On naturally fertile fields, tall, dominant species, such as timothy, smothered out the shorter grasses, especially as hay crops were left until July for mowing. Late mowing also encouraged the establishment of creeping and spear thistles.

Due to stocking rate limits, the palatability of grazing declined very rapidly early in the season and the late mown hay had very little nutritional value. It quickly emerged that this regime would not satisfy the nutritional requirements of a modern ewe with lambs. Supplemental feeding was banned for its association with over stocking but was, in fact, necessary because of under stocking. There was a risk of ewes suffering metabolic stress through malnourishment in the summer or acidosis in winter because of the level of concentrates fed to balance nutritionally bankrupt hay.

Untidy stubble

The late mowing was also detrimental to the aftermath. It was especially obvious on one field that had a fence across the middle. One side had always been mown in July, the other in early June. The late cut side has vegetation that always remains erect until it is cut and this leaves an open stubble. The side previously cut in June, when left until July, lodged. This reduced the yield by up to half and left a very untidy stubble. Much of the lodged grass had already begun to rot and was of poor value as hay. The thick mat left on the ground suppressed re-growth and frustrated the ESA's intention of promoting botanical diversity by allowing annuals to reseed. This shows that a much more gradual shift in the mowing date of permanent pasture would be more realistic to allow the sward to slowly adapt.

Re-creation of permanent pasture requires active management. Weather conditions, the natural fertility and recent management history will all affect how a mixture of grasses establishes. Much greater flexibility in the first year would have helped. Fields with an arable history can still require sub-soiling to maintain soil health. This was not allowed in the ESA, allowing soil to consolidate in a way that would not represent its natural state.

The ESA sought to produce swards one might associate with poor fertility on naturally rich soil. Clover was not allowed in the mixtures but, over the ten years, returned naturally and is a normal constituent of permanent pasture in the region. Had the clover been present at the outset, supplying nitrogen, the grass would have performed better and suppressed undesirable weeds.

Spectacular failure

The greatest difficulty in arable reversion was to promote biodiversity without encouraging thistles, ragwort or other undesirables. The ESA failed spectacularly. Despite a derogation to spray once, some of the arable reversion fields ended up with over fifty percent ground cover of thistle. Spear thistle could be controlled through a variety of 'spot' treatments, although this did take many days of hard labour; however, creeping thistle seemed uncontrollable. Under ESA management, ragwort colonised land where it had not been seen within living memory. One 28-acre crop of hay had to be chopped and left to rot because there was too much to hand rogue. Sheep will graze large quantities of ragwort whilst it is young, making it difficult to estimate how much they have ingested. The accumulation of poisonous alkaloids can result in liver sclerosis, which may not be obvious for up to eighteen months. This makes positive diagnosis of poisoning very difficult.

Thistle burden

The thistle burden impacted on the livestock in a variety of ways. The thistle thorns cause oral abscesses and may be responsible for the ingression of listeria which leads to meningitis. Scratches around the mouth greatly encourage the spread of orf and irritation of udders increases the mastitis risk. The level of thistles was sufficient to preclude haymaking on a number of fields. As a result, there was no break from grazing, which encouraged an endoparasites build-up. The fields, which could be cut for hay, had to be cut each year instead of resting them with grazing, and yields fell rapidly.

Because topping of grazing was delayed by at least a month, the nutritional value of grazing plummeted during June especially. By the time it was topped, it was so mature that it had produced seed and was reluctant to grow any aftermath.

The height of the un-topped sward made observation of livestock very difficult. Not only did the time taken to check animals go up greatly, but many problems were simply not observed. By mid-June, fields were dominated by thistles and nettles up to five feet high. Sheep ailments, which would normally be treated quickly, escaped notice and, in the worst cases, carcasses were simply found when the field was eventually topped. Not much chance of complying with the government's on-farm burial ban!

The ground level microclimate was more shaded, warm and wet than normal sheep grazing. This was conducive to the survival of worm larvae and foot rot infection. The jungle also favoured fly strike, which was also encouraged by dirty sheep back ends, due to the increased worm burden.

It seems very standard advice in veterinary books to either fence livestock out of wet area or else improve drainage to deny habitat to the snails, which arc vectors of liver fluke. In tier 2 of the ESA, a ditch was bunded in order to raise the water level in a number of fields for the benefit of wading birds. There was a clear increase in the incidence of liver fluke. There is a growing difficulty with resistance to anthelmintic treatments for round worms, requiring the rotation of products used, and this increases the difficulty of using flukicides as well.

Wetland habitats are particularly important in conservation but hostile to normal farm livestock. There was a general difficulty with the artificial bunching of the farm's workload under ESA rules. Operations normally spread during May and June, such as harvesting and topping grass, all came due simultaneously in July. Other operations, such as muck spreading on the aftermaths, all contributed to the exaggerated July workload. Such pressure put added pressure on routine stock tasks at this time of year.

At a time when general financial pressure on agriculture can impact on animal welfare, the increased costsof combining conservation with farming stretches resources to the limit. Labour costs greatly increased, halving stock rates obviously doubles the cost per animal of fencing/ and the effort of topping overgrown fields takes many tractor hours and a great deal of diesel oil.

The land in the ESA was not able to stand on its own. Because of the poor quality of herbage, an unusual amount of conventionally grown cereals were produced for animal feed on the rest of the farm. It was also necessary to plant extra grass leys on land out of the ESA which, with the use of artificial fertiliser, could provide grazing both early and late in the year when the ESA grass failed to grow. For some periods, stock were excluded from the ESA and obviously had to have some- where else to go. The conservation benefits of the ESA are offset by the effects on the rest of the farm.

The British landscape is an unnatural artefact. It is a palimpsest of agricultural history created as a by-product of farming. The obvious way to ensure continuity of its management is selectively through agricultural activity. Sheep have created much of the landscape people love and the optimum level of grazing is the only way to preserve the landscape but other objectives should never override the welfare of livestock, which are sentient beings, not just cheap lawnmowers. The management of sheep must remain the domain of shepherds, not academics, bureaucrats or the pantheon of non-farming experts taking an interest in the countryside.

Paul Haskins is a member of NSA and can be contacted at Camden Farm, Radcot Road, Farringdon. Oxfordshire. SN7 8DY

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