Flood of complaints over Sepa action

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The legacy of last year, with flooded crops and saturated land, burst out this week, with farmers accusing the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) of contributing to their problems through not allowing ditches to be cleaned.

The annual meeting of East Central area of NFU Scotland in Perth ended on an angry note with claims the union hierarchy was “pussyfooting around” on the issue.

One Perthshire based farmer said that the flooding he had experienced last year was Sepa’s fault through not allowing drainage maintenance to be carried out and he then attacked the union for not doing anything about the issue.

Union vice-president Allan Bowie said that he had also experienced problems in getting necessary permissions to clean out burns on his land. However, he denied claims that the union had been “idle” in dealing with Sepa, saying that meetings had been held with the environment agency and progress was being made towards a solution which would permit regular maintenance of watercourses.

He also said the union had brought the issue to the attention of Richard Lochhead, the cabinet secretary for agriculture, as recently as last month on a visit to an East Lothian farm where the damage done by the extreme weather of last year had been discussed.

While drainage schemes are expensive and there are difficulties in getting ditches cleaned out, Bowie believed that one solution for farmers could be getting the local community involved.

He said the use of haugh land to prevent towns and villages being flooded was now an option which should be explored at the same time as getting local support for routine ditch clearance.

Yesterday, David Harley, Sepa’s water and land manager, urged farmers and landowners in catchment areas to come together and meet Sepa officers to try and work out solutions to particular problems.

He instanced a project in Dumfries and Galloway, where a working group have agreed a sediment management strategy for a catchment with minimal cost and bureaucracy.

“Our belief is that taking this sort of co-operative approach and considering the issue at a catchment scale is the way forward,” he said.

“We all acknowledge that it’s a difficult area and we are working closely with the NFUS.

“In many cases, work can be carried out without formal or complicated authorisation procedures, and our officers are happy to advise,” the water and land manager added.