What Cameron must do to sort out the flooding mess


by Green Party leader Natalie Bennett

Dredging is no silver bullet. We need much more than that

As residents, farmers and businesspeople continue to struggle just to get by across much of the South West of England and beyond, there’s a great deal of very distasteful debate and finger-pointing around the floods.

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles is trying to blame the Environment Agency, a Somerset Level Tory launched an astonishing stream of playground-level invective at its head, and both Labour and Tory parties have tried to insist the fault lay with each other’s record in government.

The fact is, both parties have a very poor record. In 2007 the National Audit Office pointed out that the Labour government’s funding was £150 million a year short of what was needed to achieve its own target, a very modest target, to maintain 63 per cent of existing flood defences in good order. Since then, the government has cut spending on flood defences by 15 per cent. That’s in addition to overall funding cuts to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) of 36 per cent, with further cuts planned that could see 550 staff who are now dealing with flooding being made redundant.

But past spending patterns are now history. We can’t go back in time and take actions that might have prevented damage today. What we need to do is move forward. David Cameron’s announcement of £100m for repairing damage and extra flood defences is a small step in the right direction, with the stress on ‘small’.

What he should be doing is immediately announcing the reversal of all cuts in Defra – or at the very least to the cuts in staff dealing with flooding and climate change. As the Met Office’s chief scientist said on 10th February “all of the evidence points” to a link to climate change in the severity and length of the severe weather Britain has experienced in recent weeks.

And while Mr Cameron’s clinging to the restoration of dredging, as a simple, silver bullet answer – against much expert scientific advice – it’s clear that what is need is detailed whole catchment management planning right across England and Wales.

That means looking at tree planting across catchments and particularly in catchment areas, considering farming practices that reduce run-off, increasing soil organic matter, allowing rivers to return to natural meandering shapes, ending the building of new homes on floodplains and ensuring sustainable drainage systems that hold water are built on new estates, and, in some places, deliberately breaching sea walls to allow the restoration of wave-absorbing salt marsh … the list goes on, the answer will be detailed, and different for each catchment and local situation.

Sound catchment management planning requires staff, resources, expertise and cash. And sound, level-headed leadership. Almost as importantly, Mr Cameron should get rid of his Environment Secretary Owen Paterson.

To have a man who clearly has no grasp of the reality of climate change (or indeed of science – just look at his approach to the badger cull) – is now, more clearly than ever, wildly inappropriate – and an insult to all of those suffering with the floods now.

Paterson in his rhetoric (telling a Tory Party fringe that there were positive sides to climate change and suggesting many were over-emotional about it) and his actions (since he took office, spending on climate change has almost halved) has demonstrated his extreme unsuitability for the role he occupies.

In 2015 voters will have the opportunity to restructure the Parliament – maybe elect enough Green MPs for a proper Environment Secretary – Green MP Caroline Lucas, for example. But, before then, Mr Cameron could make a start on improving infrastructure spending and resilience planning, particularly in transport – the lack of which has been all too clearly demonstrated by the cutting off of rail services to Cornwall. No major part of the country should be served by a single, highly vulnerable rail line, and retracking of two alternative routes should be urgently considered.

Over to you Mr Cameron…

Green Leader condemns ‘irrational’ government policy on bovine TB

DSC_0058-300x195Photo credit: Ben Tait (Chester Young Greens)

original article from Chester Greens

AHEAD of this week’s Parliamentary debate on badger culling, Natalie Bennett spent time on Friday discussing the green alternative with local farmer Huw Rowlands.

Scientists and environmentalists have described current government policy as “badly-planned, poorly executed and inhumane”[1] as well as cruel and expensive, with costs of pilot schemes in Gloucestershire and Somerset estimated at an extraordinary £2 500 per badger killed. Yet—incredibly—Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who famously blamed problems with the pilot cull on the badgers ‘moving the goalposts’,[2] plans to ignore expert advice and push ahead with large scale culling.

When Ms Bennett—an agricultural science graduate—was elected leader of the Green Party last year, journalists were amused at the notion that she was the only national party leader who knows how to shear a sheep.[3] She also clearly understands Cheshire farmers’ concerns about the spread of bovine TB, but insists that badger culling is not a scientifically credible approach to controlling the disease.

“I was delighted to visit The Grange Farm in Mickle Trafford and to discuss the green alternative to badger culling with Mr Rowlands” said Ms Bennett, “The Green Party listens to farmers’ concerns and to expert opinion; our policy is based on both. Current government policy is based ignorance and disregard of scientific advice.

“All the evidence suggests the cull is scientifically unsound and potentially counter-productive, yet the government is blindly pursuing it, as if it is afraid to simply admit it got this wrong.”

The Grange Farm[4] is well known locally as a beacon of sustainable farming practice and the Rowlands’ have been working with the Cheshire Wildlife Trust to trap and vaccinate badgers.[5]

Under Ms Bennett’s leadership, the Green Party have long argued in favour of this approach, together with tighter controls on the transport of cattle to slaughterhouses and outbreeding of dairy cows to reintroduce hybrid vigour into the herd, with consequent disease-resistance improvements.[6]

Local Green Party leader, Jackie Turvey Tait (pictured above with Natalie Bennett and Huw Rowlands) said: “Culling has been an embarrassing failure for the government and may actually have made the situation worse for farmers in the pilot regions. We urge people across Cheshire to write to Stephen Mosley MP—who has previously expressed support for badger culling[7]—asking him to change his view.

“We must act now, before the livelihoods of Cheshire farmers—and ludicrous sums of public money—are risked in further pursuit of this misguided policy.”

The RSPCA are actively campaigning on this issue and concerned readers can email their MP directly from the RSPCA campaign website: http://www.rspca.org.uk/getinvolved/campaigns/wildlife/badgers/takeaction