Have we reached Peak Paterson?

sunset winterbourne

is the sun setting on Owen Paterson? ((c) Miles King)

Some say we have seen Peak Oil, but are now witnessing Peak “Owen Paterson”? After yesterday’s performance in the Commons, where Paterson repeatedly failed to respond to questioning on his climate change denial, criticism is (finally) increasing.

Even the Tory loyalist chair of the EFRA committee, Anne McIntosh is now concerned; “Recent flooding events reinforce our concerns about cuts to the Defra budget. It is a small ministry facing massive cuts,”she said – only 3 years late Anne. How is it that the previous massive cuts to Defra didn’t have these effects? Or perhaps Anne is now very worried that she is going to be deselected as an MP and is seeking to gain some publicity.

Paterson visited a flood defence project yesterday, as if to say “look I really do care about all you people who have been flooded”. What they may not realise is that Paterson has already caved in to farmers wanting to take farmland flood management into their own hands, by relaxing the rules on dredging watercourses on farmland, against the advice of the Environment Agency. Paterson apparently said “the purpose of waterways is to get rid of water”.

Paterson clearly sees the word as a small set of large lego bricks which either fit together or don’t. What he failed to realise is that getting rid of water in one place means it arrives more quickly at another place. So getting rid of water from flooded farmland means it arrives (with silt mud and other debris) in the next town, flooding properties.

There are a wide range of land-use actions that can reduce farmland and downstream flooding, but of course using them would require a) boots on the ground from agencies such as NE and EA who are rapidly losing those boots due to funding cuts b) moving more money from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 in the Common Agricultural Policy (which would upset his chums in the NFU) and c) more regulation, which is of course anathema to neo-conservatives like Paterson.

Paterson is already tainted by the charnel emanations arising from the rotting remains of the Badger Cull fiasco. Each killed badger cost £4000, with 80% of this being paid by the taxpayer. Somerset Badger Group vaccinate each badger for £25. Perhaps Paterson is doing his bit to grow the economy, by inflating the costs of killing wildlife. Even the Tory Spectator is spreading rumours of his imminent departure in a Spring reshuffle.

With his latest “off the wall” pronouncements on Biodiversity Offsetting creating waves of repulsion all round, it must be time for him to go.

I have to say I cannot remember as awful a Secretary of State for the Environment  in 30 years, with the possible exception of his uncle-in-law “Old Nick” Ridley. But then that may be the problem, as Paterson clearly gets all his advice from his brother-in-law Matt Ridley, the climate change denialist and anti-environmentalist. Policy Exchange has recently appointed Matt Ridley, a hereditary Peer in the Lords, as a visiting scholar.

About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in anti-environmental rhetoric, biodiversity offsetting, climate change, flooding, Floodplains, Matt Ridley, neoliberalism, Owen Paterson, Policy Exchange and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Have we reached Peak Paterson?

  1. David Dunlop says:

    His “sacked” predecessor made a ‘helpful’ intervention:

    Caroline Spelman (Meriden, Conservative)

    “I am sure the Secretary of State would like to clarify for the House that the Opposition’s claim that they could identify savings from arm’s length bodies falsifies the fact that when this Government took office, there were 91 arm’s length bodies under DEFRA’s wing, which I reduced to 28, and that those savings were directed precisely to help to improve flood defences.”

    perhaps pointing up the contrast?

  2. Mark Fisher says:

    Not that I’m in the business of defending Tory MPs, but Anne McIntosh is in the local press today, commending the start of works on the construction of a water storage reservoir to alleviate flooding in Pickering as part of the Slow the Flow project. It’s hoped the reservoir will hold back over one hundred thousand cubic metres of water in Newtondale at times of peak flow. There are other measures being undertaken that McIntosh pointed to:
    “Taken with the other flood alleviation measures such as planting trees by the Forestry Commission, woody debris dams, timber bunds and other means to block the water running off the moors, such ways of working closely with nature will allow the Pickering Pilot Project to be a flagship scheme for other parts of the country”

    Of course, students of Slow the Flow can point to the intransigence of farmers to consider woodland plantings on their lands:
    “The greatest challenge has been creating new riparian and floodplain woodland with only 4.1 ha (riparian woodland) being delivered in the Pickering Beck Catchment. Planting of riparian woodland was significantly constrained due to landscape and biodiversity factors, while financial considerations were key in the lack of landowner interest in floodplain woodland”

    This has often been the case when other flood alleviation schemes in Yorkshire have come up with that approach, such as the Ripon Multi-objective Project:
    “Despite the positive findings from the modelling work, the landowners proved unwilling to submit an application for planting floodplain woodland at any of the identified sites and a decision was taken to close the project (after 15 months). The main reasons given by the landowners are described, the most important of which was the lack of sufficient payments/incentive to compensate for the perceived reduction in capital value of the land and loss of agricultural income, as well as for the increased risks associated with land use change”

    The latter really begs the question of the lack of floodplain woodland in Britain, and which I pointed to in a report in 2010 to the Scottish Government. Natura 2000 sites for riparian mixed forest habitat (91FO) can be found in Belgium, Germany, France and the Netherlands in the Atlantic biogeographical region, and in Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Sweden in the nearby Continental biogeographical region. I asked Keith Kirby about this, and he said it is a type of riparian woodland that may once have occurred quite widely in the lowlands of England, probably along the Trent, Ouse and Thames Rivers, but was cleared away for agriculture even more efficiently than woodland at the tree-line level in the uplands!

    Its been on my list to write about it since then. However, the Twittersphere tells me that George Monbiot is currently researching an article on how much of the current flooding could be mitigated by reforesting Wales/England border regions. I suppose he will get the issue greater exposure.

    • Miles King says:

      Thanks Mark. As I suggested in my blog – landowners will not be willing to make the necessary land-use changes without a combination of sufficient incentive and regulation.

  3. nirgunapa says:

    It is ironic that the ‘development’ that the government supports and craves is contributing to increased run off and flooding especially as, here in Wales, the environmental performance of new houses has been downgraded, (http://www.clickonwales.org/2013/08/welsh-government-caves-in-on-carbon-friendly-homes/)
    Presumably the modellers of water catchments and SUDS will not be seen as front line staff and will be lost in the cuts thereby exacerbating flooding problems in the future.

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