Defra offers local authorities flood cash

Defra will be opening the Bellwin scheme for local authorities affected by floods caused by Storm Desmond, which have devastated large parts of Cumbria.

Defra secretary of state Liz Truss said she would be visiting Cumbria, which experienced the worst floods in recent times on December 5. New Environment Agency flood defences failed to stop the flooding of thousands of homes, with damage worse than previous floods in 2005 and 2009. Truss said: "This area had the heaviest rain this country has ever recorded, with some river levels rising half a metre higher than the previous record. The flood defences, which were built to the best available models have protected more than 11,500 homes but in light of this weekend’s weather we will look again at the way we model extreme weather events.

"As a Government we have made flood defences a priority. The six-year £2.3 billion investment in new flood defences will protect an additional 300,000 homes and reduce flood risk. The £2.3bn is a real terms increase on last Parliament’s £1.7bn investment, which itself was a real terms increase on the £1.5bn spent under Labour. The Chancellor also announced in the Autumn Statement that flood maintenance funding will be protected in real terms until 2020.

"The insurance industry is responding with help for homeowners and yesterday I told Parliament that we will be opening the Bellwin scheme for local authorities affected by floods, and that 100 per cent of eligible costs will be met by the Government. We will be announcing further schemes to help people over the coming days."

The scheme compensates local authorities for expenditure on emergency operations following events such as floods.

Landscape experts have suggested new ways of looking at flood mitigation, while, farmers looking for a crop to grow on flood-prone land, and help improve soils after flooding, as well as provide fuel for biomass, may soon have the answer. This is thanks to some new trials to examine how the energy crop, miscanthus, survives in water-logged land and its effect on the soil after flooding.

The trials are being jointly-run by the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University, and miscanthus supply chain specialists, Terravesta. They come some 18 months after the floods which devastated in the Somerset Levels and are being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

"We know miscanthus has the ability to tolerate flooding when it’s mature, but there’s a gap in the data about its tolerance during its establishment stage, and this is during the first two years of growth," says Dr Sarah Purdy, plant physiologist, from Aberystwyth University. 

"What’s really exciting about these trials is that we’re also going to analyse the health of the soil, following the floods, when compared to other land-uses," says Dr Purdy.

The trials will see the biomass crop, miscanthus, grown on commercial flood-prone sites, on plot-scale sites and in controlled environments under glass, to monitor how the crop copes with prolonged flooding, particularly in its establishment stage, and analyse the structure and nutritional health of the soil.

Mike Cooper, who manages the rhizome supply to other growers, and grows the crop himself, supplying Terravesta, for biomass pelleting, says: "We’ve believed for a long time that miscanthus improves the quality of soil, and we know it thrives on problem, flood-prone land. We need to plan for the future, especially on the Somerset levels, where growers are looking at planting alternative crops." 

The project officially starts later this year and will continue next year.

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