Flooded farms in England refused compensation as ‘too far’ from river

Government recovery fund stipulates affected areas must be less than 150 metres from a ‘main’ river

Farmers who have their entire cropping land submerged underwater have found they are ineligible for a government flooding hardship fund – because their farms are too far from a major river.

According to the Met Office, 1,695.9mm of rain fell from October 2022 to March 2024, the highest amount for any 18-month period in England since the organisation started collecting comparable data in 1836. Scientists have said climate breakdown is likely to cause more intense periods of rain in the UK.

Agriculture organisations said earlier this week that food production was down in the UK because so much cropland was underwater after the floods.

The government this week opened a farming recovery fund scheme, under which eligible farmers can access grants of between £500 and £25,000 to return their land to the condition it was in before exceptional flooding owing to Storm Henk in January.

But farmers have said they have had funding applications refused because they do not meet criteria such as being located near a designated major river.

John Charles-Jones is an arable farmer based in Nottinghamshire. He said he was six miles from the nearest river and not eligible for the fund. His farm has been waterlogged since Storm Babet in October, with most of his topsoil washed away, making it unviable for cropping.

His losses are expected to go into six figures as he planted a third of his planned crops in the autumn before the rain hit, and only 10%-15% of that planted crop will be viable.

Charles-Jones pointed out the farming minister, Mark Spencer, was himself from a farming background in Nottinghamshire, one of the worst-affected counties, but that farmers in the area had been blocked from the fund.

“The eligibility criteria for recipients are completely flawed,” he said, “How could anyone take so long to come up with such nonsense? I don’t think I have ever witnessed such an ill-thought-out scheme. It is difficult to know quite where to start in picking it all to pieces. For once I had higher hopes, with farming minister Mark Spencer actually living and farming in one of the worst-affected counties.”

Andrew Naish, also from Nottinghamshire, said he had faced the same problem. “Whilst grants are technically available, it looks like you will have to have walked on the moon to qualify,” he said. “We, like many farmers, have suffered flooding and large financial losses this winter but fail to meet the criteria for claiming because the government has set the parameters at unachievable levels.”

Henry Ward, an arable farmer based in Shortferry, east of Lincoln, is perhaps one of the most recognisable growers who have been hit by recent floods. His farm has been shown on news programmes over the past few months as it is entirely underwater, with his farmhouse sitting on what resembles an island in the middle of murky water.

His application for the hardship fund has been refused, despite the fact his farm has been underwater for six months. This is because his nearby river, the Barlings Eau, does not count as a major river in the scheme. Ward told the BBC: “If I’m not eligible, then who on earth is? I’m sure everyone is sick of seeing the pictures in the news as much as I am – but our farmhouse and yard is literally an island in the middle of a 500-acre [202-hectare] lake.”

Ward said his losses were about £100,000, and that he was eligible to claim £3,000 for a small piece of land away from the main farm that was close to the River Witham, but not able to claim any funding for the main farm, which was responsible for the bulk of his losses.

Rachel Hallos, the vice-president of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “It has very quickly become clear that there are major issues with the newly announced farming recovery fund, which aimed to help farmers devastated by Storm Henk in January.

“We are hearing from numerous members who have suffered catastrophic impacts who have been told they are not eligible for the fund because some of their affected areas are more than 150 metres from ‘main’ rivers. These include members with 90% of their land saturated or underwater, and huge damage to buildings and equipment.

“We are taking this up with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs urgently. I cannot believe this is what ministers intended when they launched the fund, which was a welcome and well-intentioned development, which seems to have been fundamentally let down in the detail. While the impact of the weather goes far beyond Storm Henk, this could have been a good start but, as it stands, it simply doesn’t work.”

Defra has been contacted for comment.

(Article by Helena Horton Environment reporter republished from theguardian.com)

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