According To Dixon ... Rethink needed on agroforestry decision

Continual rain over three winter months flooded large areas, devastating lives, homes, businesses and communications.

Geoff Dixon: Image HW
Geoff Dixon: Image HW

Thankfully, these emergencies are now mainly past and assessments turn to the longer-term effects.

Damage will extend well beyond the flooded areas. The soils of productive farmland, sites of ecological importance, parks and gardens were waterlogged for many weeks. Waterlogging soil for that length of time asphyxiates roots and their companion microand macro-organisms.

Warnings of longer-term damage are being voiced already. Industry leaders such as Julian Temperley, a major cider maker, are identifying economic damage. He estimates, for example, that 7,000ha of cider apples in Somerset and Herefordshire have been injured or lost. It will take years before replacement trees come into bearing. In the meantime, income and taxes from an important industry, selling at home and abroad, are lost.

Economic, ecological and social damage will stretch well beyond the cider industry. Perennial softand top-fruit crops will have been hit. Overwintered agricultural and vegetable crops may well fail as a result of root rotting. Food chains in natural ecosystems start with the activities of soil microbes. Waterlogging has damaged these basic biological systems. That reduces food supplies for insects, with effects on bird and mammal populations and our food security.

Trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials in parks and gardens may fail because of damaged roots. In particular, trees may fall for no visible reason. Grass in lawns and sports grounds will require careful aeration and scarification. Mosses and liverworts will thrive. Our soil structure has been ruined and requires restoration. Guidance is needed from Defra. Reversing Lord de Mauley's decision against adopting the Common Agricultural Policy's Pillar 2 agroforestry measures could be a helpful first step.

Professor Geoffrey Dixon is managing director of GreenGene international

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