Land. It’s everywhere we go – quite literally – but more importantly, it’s central to everything we do as a society. Food, houses, timber, energy, biodiversity, flooding, carbon storage, heritage – even our mental and physical health. All share one fundamental similarity: land has a huge part to play in their promotion or prevention.
With the economy in its current state, it’s only natural to ask how our use of land might be used as an economic lever. Currently, the most talked about use for land is as a supply-side boost to the construction industry. If we look beyond this most obvious method, however, the more longstanding economic, social and environmental benefits we can reap from effective land management become clear.
The effective management of water is one of these benefits. Water management isn’t something that seems terribly important in our everyday lives – until something goes wrong, that is. Think back to this summer, and the amount of time we spent sat indoors, or under brollies in the rain – all this at the same time as large parts of the country were experiencing a hosepipe ban. Flooding too is greatly influenced by water management.
Flooding has an obvious economic cost, without even beginning to think about the effect on people and communities whose homes and amenities are destroyed. The 2007 floods left a third of a million people without drinking water, 50,000 without power and caused more than £2 billion worth of damage. In the final report on the 2007 floods, the increasing success of using natural processes in flood prevention was highlighted. Using farmland to hold water and creating washlands and wetlands, for example, were effective techniques.
These methods are often cheaper than ‘end of pipe’ solutions. We’ve done a lot of practical work in this area ourselves. In Upper Warfdale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park we own nine farms and two hamlets, all of which are at a high risk of flooding. They face a direct risk to flooding, with further communities downstream also affected.
Here we’ve been a partner in a project guided by the Environment Agency and research by the University of Durham, that has seen a range of sustainable water and land management measures employed, including wetland creation, blocking moorland draining ditches and woodland planting. This has made space for water, reducing flooding as well as benefiting wildlife and water quality. Land-use planning is also clearly important in reducing the effects of flooding – the planning system helps prevent the building of homes in flood plains and other unsuitable areas.
Water quality is another area in which food, land and water management has the potential for multiple benefits, including the financial. More than 50% of public water requires treatment to control pollution form agriculture. Annually, this treatment comes at a cost of over £200 million.
We advocate improving water quality at the source, through land-management techniques. This saves money by reducing the need for expensive and energy-intensive treatment – the cost of which is paid by everyone through our domestic and business water bills.
By putting these principles into practice on our land, we are able to reduce water pollution risk and improve agricultural productivity. On our Killerton Estate in Devon, an area of over 2,500 acres containing 19 farms, we undertook a project providing free advice and training to farm tenants. This helped them to find land management techniques compatible with commercial farming, that also protect and enhance the soil and water quality on the estate.
Effective land-management and use are of more importance than first meets the eye, then. Land has multiple functions, which can themselves have multiple effects – environmental, social and economic.
It’s important to remember all the provisions that land makes us – yes, we need homes, cities, energy and food, but to forget about land’s role in water management would be detrimental to communities and the economy alike, leading to greater vulnerability to flooding and higher domestic water bills. We’d also be passing up the opportunity to cut the cost of future water management work by dealing with problems at a large-scale, and an early stage.
You can read more about our views on working with water in our policy document From Source to Sea. Another case study in which we managed water to great effect was at the Stamford Brook housing development. The Scottish government recently published the information note, Making the most of communities’ natural assets: green infrastructure, which contains some great case studies on harnessing the benefits of land and nature.
Blog by Ellen Reaich, External Affairs Assistant