While the measures to help farmers hit by the recent floods face up to the immediate challenges were welcomed by NFU Scotland yesterday, the union stressed that it was crucial that the longer-term issues were also addressed.
Speaking during a visit to a farm in Perthshire organised by the union to show cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead and new Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) chief executive Terry A’Hearn the consequences of the floods on productive arable land, union president Allan Bowie said that it was imperative that there was action on the bigger issues.
“We are hearing good words from the cabinet secretary just now and all the right noises from Sepa – but we must make sure that this is converted into action to protect our farmland, towns and cities into the future,” Bowie said.
“What we don’t want to happen is to get some measure of support to tide us over the recent problems – and then for things to be quietly dropped and forgotten about until the next catastrophe.”
Bowie claimed that it was crucial there was a change in attitude which would allow farmers to carry out the necessary activities on watercourses which were required to reduce the flood risk to farmland, homes and businesses.
He said that the union accepted that climate change was driving more severe weather events and that Scottish agriculture would have to adapt.
“NFU Scotland is ready and willing to play a constructive role in this process – but if farmers are to voluntarily commit to moves such as natural flood management on their farmland, it is imperative that progress is made in ensuring that the rules for watercourse management are fit for purpose and not unduly restrictive”.
Acknowledging that a “joined-up” approach was required, Lochhead reiterated his thanks to farmers for the role they had played in helping others, and recognised the fact that flooded farmland had often helped save urban areas from the worst of the floods.
He said that the launch earlier this week of a national flood prevention strategy showed that Scotland was ahead of the game when it came to looking to the future.
A’Hearn said: “We need to work with people on the ground to an agreed framework and to make sure that all issues are covered.”
Flood banks reinstatement can go-ahead without prior approval
While farmers around the country continued to count the costs of the recent floods, there was news of a number of initiatives to help them deal with the damage which had been wreaked on scores of productive units from the Borders to Aberdeenshire.
Confirmation was given that farmers could carry out reinstatement of damaged flood banks whenever weather permitted without prior approval or permission from Sepa, a move welcomed by NFU Scotland which said that too often farmers feared falling foul of environmental regulations.
“Repairing with like-for-like material does not require approval and farmers can crack on when the weather permits,” said union chief executive, Scott Walker.
Farmers also welcomed the news that there would be a relaxation of some of the cross-compliance and greening requirements where they had been hit by floods.
“It looks like the Scottish Government is going to look at this on a case by case basis and take a pragmatic approach to these issues where it is clear that flooding has presented a major problem,” said Walker.
He said that anyone who found that their ability to meet cross-compliance or greening requirements for the 2016 scheme year had been compromised as a result of the floods should contact their local area office in writing within 15 days to seek relief from the rules on the grounds of exceptional circumstances.
The Scottish Government also revealed that the details of the £1 million aid package for repairing damaged flood banks should be available “within days”.