Haybales in a field

Flood prevention on farms

Flooding has become more common in the UK so now, more than ever before, farmers need to consider their impact on the wider community.

The increase in extreme weather means flooding has become more common in the UK. More than ever before, farmers need to consider the impact of their land on the wider community. Cornish Mutual Technical Leader, Paul Haddrell, explains: “At Cornish Mutual we have dealt with claims against farmers when a property near their fields gets washed away. Farms impact on a much wider area and neighbouring properties will be affected by how much water the farm land can hold.”

Richard Smith has produced a detailed report on soils and natural flood management for the Environment Agency and partnership organisations. He explains: “Modern farming can change soil structure across large areas of the landscape very quickly. All compaction restricts downward water movement and can lead to surface saturation and the potential for surface runoff.”

Richard is keen to emphasise that farmers and land owners should not necessarily be blamed for the problem: “Soil compaction can be difficult to avoid during prolonged wet spells, particularly when crops need harvesting in difficult conditions and there is intense economic pressure.”

While every farm is different, the report has the following advice:

  • Where possible, carry out slurry spreading when the soil is dry.
  • Fields used to grow vegetables should ideally be relatively level and have a low risk of runoff.
  • Good soil structure can be achieved and maintained by drilling in suitable soil conditions in the early autumn to ensure good crop cover before the onset of winter.
  • Fields used for out-wintering of stock should be relatively level and access points should be located to avoid channelling runoff.
  • Soils should be loosened after harvest to remove inevitable compaction and reduce the risk of enhanced runoff during winter.
  • Temporary filter fences can be used to slow down runoff and to trap sediment when growing high risk crops.
  • Temporary ditches and single plough furrows can be created to divert runoff from headlands to soakaway areas.

Paul Haddrell adds: “The direction of ploughing, whether or not drainage ditches are clear, and adding or removing hedges can all have an impact on our land. A bit of forethought can prevent a lot of harm.”