Who will be leading the NFU? and Dredging the depths

Two weeks tomorrow will see the election of a new NFU hierarchy of President, Vice President and Deputy President.

The candidates for the NFU posts are as follows and you can see what they say about themselves by following the links (and their Twitter accounts).  Not much about the environment is there – from the leaders of the stewards of the countryside (but see Jonathan Brant)?.  Any of these candidates who would like to set out their environmental credentials here are welcome to a Guest Blog – my prediction is that there will be no takers (but not because they don’t have anything to say on the subject of course).


Adam Quinney (@ACQuinney, 1927 followers)

Meurig Raymond (no twitter account that I can find)


Deputy President

Minette Batters (@barford100, 120 followers)

Thomas Binns (@TWBinns, 122 followers)

David Brookes (@lowerloxleyfarm, 65 followers)

Rosey Dunn (@farmerDunn, 380 followers)

Adam Quinney (@ACQuinney, 1927 followers)


Vice President

Minette Batters (@barford100, 120 followers)

Thomas Binns (@TWBinns, 122 followers)

Jonathan Brant (@JonathanBrant1, 669 followers)

Rosey Dunn (@farmerDunn, 380 followers)

Robert Lasseter (@LasseterRobert, 1013 followers)

Guy Smith (@essexpeasant, 2297 followers)


I also tweeted Friday’s blog to each of these candidates and asked them whether they supported the vision that had been chaired by Anthony Gibson (a West Country farmer and NFU activist) and supported by the SW NFU.  It didn’t seem like a very difficult question, really.

There is no reason why any of these candidates should reply – and most of them didn’t but…

… I was impressed by how easily Rosy Dunn could answer the question in fewer than 140 characters, thus: ‘A great starting point and a good vision, but we cannot have this level of flooding, not good 4 wildlife not good 4 people either’. 

… less impressive was Guy Smith who couldn’t bring himself to support the vision but kept banging on about dredging until,  it seemed through gritted teeth, he supported Anthony Gibson but said nothing about the vision.  Such lack of clarity   Was it being on the same side as the RSPB or wildlife that Guy found so difficult?

… Thomas Binns tweeted: ‘a vision built by locals. Whats not to sign up to? A vision which starts with engineering…

… Robin Lasseter pointed out to me that he had already tweeted the vision and also wrote: ‘Good vision. Action on will speak louder than words.


As I say, any of these candidates who’d like to spell out what more farmers could and should do for the environment are very welcome to a Guest Blog here.

Guy Smith was very keen to know my views on dredging and so I told him: ‘No idea – what do the experts say? How much will it help? How much will it cost? If that’s what’s needed – yes. Is it?’

I really don’t know how much dredging would help – nor how much it would cost.  I’d rather that the government didn’t spend what is now £130m on helping deal with these floods unless that £130m buys something worthwhile – will it? I suppose if it means we have to hear less from Ian Liddell-Grainger (click here for Richard Benyon expressing his ‘support’ for Liddell-Grainger at 21 minutes) it is worth something.

I do wonder what the relative cost to the economy and in terms of human misery were of the floods in Surrey over the Christmas period compared with what has happened in Somerset.  Does anyone know – I don’t?

But I did come across this essay from someone who does know a lot about hydrology and coastal processes and complicated stuff like that.  It’s not an easy read – certainly not as easy as ‘We want dredging’ but then real life is not necessarily easy.  That’s why we need experts and we need experts to advise us.  And here are three more statements from people who look like experts in hydrology which are pretty lukewarm on dredging.  None of them says ‘Don’t dredge’ and neither do I – I don’t say anything because I haven’t a clue.  But others who don’t have a deep understanding of hydrology, politicians, Prince Charles, some farmers, haven’t felt so constrained.  When bad things happen then it is too easy to reach for the ‘Something should be done about it’ solution – even if the only thing you can think of is the wrong thing.  Let’s make sure we put in real solutions, not knee-jerk solutions.

Eric Pickles is an expert on identifying experts, apparently.  Even though the Environment Agency is an agency of Defra, and Mr Pickles is not Defra Secretary of State (‘Even though’? Maybe I mean ‘because’), he took the extraordinary step of disparaging the expertise of Environment Agency staff on the TV yesterday.  Under this coalition government agencies such as EA and NE have been stripped of cash and stripped of independence.  They have been told that they are delivery agencies which are just there to carry out government policy.  The least that their staff might expect under these circumstances is that government ministers would rally around now that they are part of the family.

Let’s remember, although it will, indeed, be people on the Somerset Levels who will suffer if events are repeated, it will be all of us who will pay financially towards solutions. And those who suffer directly, and those who pay indirectly, both deserve real solutions based on knowledge and practicality.  That might well, for all I know, involve lots of dredging.  We certainly need to be reassured that there will be some expertise deployed as well as our money.



And almost finally…A lot of farmers read this blog and I’m grateful to those who comment.  Maybe some of them would like to set out what they would like to see the future NFU leadership say about the environment.  It is so difficult to get farmers to say anything about environmental matters – many are scared to put their heads above the parapet for fear of being criticised by other farmers.  Time to speak up, farmers. Don’t tell us what a great job you are doing (whether you are or not) – what is your environmental vision for the British countryside?

But not quite finally…I would like to know the ages of all the houses that have flooded and those that haven’t flooded on the Somerset Levels.  What are the chances do you think that the younger the house the greater its chance of having been flooded?

And finally…I’m told that the constituency where the departing Peter Kendall is most likely not to throw his hat into the ring is Nadine Dorries’s seat of Mid Bedfordshire – surely not?


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31 Replies to “Who will be leading the NFU? and Dredging the depths”

  1. Dear Mr Ravery,

    So like, when we all fly off the handle when all our insewerance premyums go up again - all over the country - is it this Environmental Agency we keep hearing so much about, whichever blame-mongers happen to have the political ball at the time or ourselves for not making sure that the right decisions were taken, who should bear the brunt of our tutting in an aggrieved manner.

    I've not heard Mr Paterson mention it but that lot in Europe made us sign up to this Water Drainwork Directive, so perhaps we can blame the EU? Apparently, there are these targets for improving the water quality. And if we fail to meet them, those on the wrong side of the Channel will be imposing big fines on us which would seem a shame. I'm not really clear but this WDF is meant to be all about making rivers more natural, taking account of their need need to flood at times and reducing flood risk. Obviously it can't be any good really but I wish my insurance company had supported it. This 'Ecosystem Approach' seems like it might be a good idea - even if it does sound like a new town dual carriage way.



  2. Guy Smith - Environmental credentials.

    Pesticide Action Network Bee Friendly Farmer of the Year 2012 - winner
    Farmers Weekly Countryside Manager of the Year ( sponsored by Natural England) 2009 - Runner Up
    Farmers Guardian Farm Ambassador of the Year 2005
    Honorary Doctorate from Essex University in 2008 in recognition to services to agriculture including good environmental management.
    Fellow of the Royal Agricultural Society.

    Farm has been used to demonstrate good environmental practice by ADAS
    Farm Conservation demonstration farm for Syngenta
    I was asked to be a judge by the RSPB in one of their national farm conservation competitions in 2006 and happily spent a couple of days doing so.
    Featured in The Independant Newspaper as Face of Green farming.

    1. A lot of the images shown of people's flooded houses have indeed been of more recent construction (I'm no builder but many look as if they could have been built in the last twenty 'ish' years perhaps), were these part of the 20% of new build which Government wanted built in flood plains?

      We might also ask the question of IDBs and how they are funded (generally the largest proportion is via special levy rather than from agricultural landowners whose land is drained) and where the benefit is actually delivered?

      1. AFAIK - the IDBs are responsible for the rhynes and minor carriers but the EA controls what happens on the main rivers.

        1. AFAIK???

          Like Mark I simply seek answers to who benefits from public payments, be they through EA or the local IDBs.

    2. Guy, And with over 2000 followers on Twitter someone must be listening. Well done and an interesting CV. But, I can understand why Mark hasn't picked this up in his blog entry as none of it features in the CV entered onto the NFU website. It is almost as if it is non-pc to mention environment when standing for election, I do hope I am wrong in that respect.

      Best wishes for the election. Now that these environmental credentials are in the public domain I look forward to seeing these put into practice within the NFU. There are a lot of good environmentally aware farmers out there and they do desperately need support from their representative body.

    3. Guy - thank you very much for responding. I'd love to see the NFU working closely with conservation organisations and helping to lead more farmers to positions where wildlife is thriving in the countryside. We've seen big losses of plants, insects and birds during my lifetime and that saddens me. In a rich, technologically literate country we should be able to do much better. Given that the public invests so much money in agriculture I would like to see farming give back a bit more in wildlife. Some farmers are great, and do a lot - but the overall picture is depressing with 60% of farmland species being in decline according to last year's State of Nature report.

  3. GOOD MORNING MARK. My apologies for not replying, is called a technology failure. I do feel that nature and wildlife have a part to play in any area of the country, be it uplands or lowlands alongside that of the agricultural industry. We have in the main got the balance right, but in some aspects it has gone wrong but in both directions and by that I mean sometimes too much wildlife at the expense of agriculture, or vice versa. What I would like to see if I am put into the position of VP, is the sitting down and discussing with the various bodies and groups to lay out a new set of cards on the table and start again in some areas. This is not just about funding, but also about implementing the schemes to look after both parties. With regard to the Somerset levels, I don't know the area, and I have now read the paper. I didn't feel that there was a huge amount about the agriculture and that it was very broad based and not specific. As I said earlier, this country is so very varied and beautiful which people learn to appreciate, but the schemes haven't worked according to plan . Admittedly the level of rainfall has been totally over the top and so unexpected, but the damage, not only too business and personal property but for wildlife has been disastrous. There has to be a limit as how much waste is left in the river systems to be of detriment to everything. This balance has to found to keep all happy.
    I do take an active interest in wildlife Mark, and you can see if you go too far either way in the balance of nature/farming you can soon undo good work. I hope this answers some of your questions, because I wouldn't like to think that I have a disregard for nature. Far from it.
    Kind Regards Jonathan Brant ( prospective VP NFU )

    1. Jonathan, all credit to you for responding to Mark's post. I am pleased to hear that you recognise the importance of nature although perhaps your comments were rather broad based and not specific - as you found with the Somerset Levels 'Vision'.
      I would take issue with your statement that "We have in the main got the balance right" with respect to wildlife on farmland. You must be aware that measures of wildlife on farmland such as the Farm Bird Index show a steady and extremely worrying downward trend for many species and anyone familiar with the British countryside over the past forty years or so will have witnessed this steady impoverishment of its wildlife. I am aware that farmers (like everyone else) are working hard for a living but they do receive substantial sums of public money to support them and it would be very welcome indeed if the NFU could recognise that it is quite reasonable for more of this money to be directed towards promoting the co-existence of wildlife with agricultural production as well as to other public goods such as flood prevention and water quality protection.
      Should you be elected, I do hope you will use the opportunity to think very carefully about these issues and help guide the NFU in a more environmentally friendly direction that should help arrest the decline of farmland wildlife.

    2. Jonathan - thank you very much for responding. Interesting thoughts. I'd love to see the NFU working closely with conservation organisations and helping to lead more farmers to positions where wildlife is thriving in the countryside. We've seen big losses of plants, insects and birds during my lifetime and that saddens me. In a rich, technologically literate country we should be able to do much better. Given that the public invests so much money in agriculture I would like to see farming give back a bit more in wildlife. Some farmers are great, and do a lot - but the overall picture is depressing with 60% of farmland species being in decline according to last year's State of Nature report.

  4. Mark, I was interested on the news last night to see the Dutch comments on the need for dredging. Clearly some dredging is needed as part of the package (although if I lived in Taunton and elsewhere I might worry about the downstream effect of that) but the Dutch, whilst arguing for increased dredging were clearly dredging in a way to create meanders and natural eddies with the stated aim of slowing water down. This does seem against the consensus emerging in Somerset which seems to be saying dredge and get the water out fast.

    We now also have to feel sorry for those living next to the Thames and other Rivers, which are flooding despite flood alleviation measures such as the Jubilee Canal (is that what it is called) already in place. Will we now have a request to dredge those rivers?

    1. Friends in Ciderspace tell me the Huntspill River - aka The Cut - is at normal levels despite taking large volumes pumped in from the Axe and Brue, and compared with the area south of the Poldens there is minor flooding.

      Does this suggest that the tidal barrage under consideration for the Parrett estuary might be the best option of all?

  5. Another expert view. I find this a tad mechanistic


  6. Mark et al.,

    This blog (http://therivermanagementblog.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/scramble-for-blame-serves-no-one/) seems to be a sensible and coherent commentary on the devastating floods of the Somerset Levels.

    Simon Dixon (@WoodsinRivers) seems to be more of an expert on these matters (http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/gees/people/profile.aspx?ReferenceId=67778) than Eric Pickles; though I may be wrong in this assumption.


  7. I see Clegg is the latest bigwig to add to traffic congestion in the Levels and Moors. The news items are illustrated by a pic of him standing in 3" of water, pointing onward and upward at the sky. The other bods aren't scribbling furiously or clapping - otherwise it is similar to most pix of Kim Jong Un.


  8. "David Cameron has offered his support to Lord Smith, head of the Environment Agency. He said: "This is not the time to change personnel. I back the Environment Agency and I back the work they are doing." (BBC News). So maybe Pickles was wrong and the EA are experts after all? I am getting so confused!

    Meanwhile Nigel Farage has (of course) waded in "UKIP leader Nigel Farage has repeated calls for an inquiry. He said: "There needs to be a public inquiry into river management and sea defences in this country because I believe that something has gone wrong." (BBC News). Clever of him to spot that something has gone wrong - maybe he should let the people of Somerset and the Thames valley know as they were probably thinking how swimmingly (sorry, perhaps not the most appropriate word in the circumstances) everything is going.

    Nigel's photo-opp will of course require a flooded pub where he can drink his pint whilst standing in two feet of water.

    1. "I am getting so confused!"

      No need. An expert - Professor Thorne of Nottingham University - has a terribly reasonable and dull article in the Gaianurd today.

      He starts off by telling us "it doesn't mean dredging". Except where we need "enhanced channel management, which will occasionally require removing silt from channels where their flood defence function is compromised".

      Or dredging, as we ordinary people call it.

  9. In about 2006 I had a chat with a vice president of NFU on the fringes of a research meeting on climate change. I asked him straight 'would farmers farm water if they were paid to do so ? ' and without hesitation he answered 'yes'. Whilst the debate about who is to blame and what to do shouldn't be going on at all while people's houses are still at risk - and a Prime Minister capable of leadership would have ensured that happened - the scale of the challenge is such we really must look at all options - not the closed in, cosy assumptions everyone works to - and I wonder whether any of the NFU candidates might break the mould and chart a future for farming that made best use of the land for everything society needs - including flood management and wildlife. It is a pity farmland flooding is currently seen as 'abandoning the countryside' (which of course it is if it deprives land managers of their livelihoods): we need to be working together, using the space and volume farmland provides, to protect houses in particular, but in a way that pays the land managers fairly for their contribution.

  10. It's always good when people can get on togevver, as young Roddy says, especially when they've each given up a bit but still feel like they can tell others they've got a good deal. I've always liked those compromising situations.

    This cadgement approach looks like it might go a long way of doing that, from what I could understand in the magazines at the Dentists'. When our Kevin used to play with his gravy and mashed spotatoes, you could see that a dug out straight channel just caused another bit to flood, so you don't need to be no more expert than Mr Ravery to understand. Maybe just a bit more than that Mr Wally that's made all the fuss. Silly man.

    Mr Ravery does go on a bit about the NFU as an organizashun but its plain as the nose oin your face that its made up of lots of different people, many who work the land themselves. Those markets, as you hear about, is wot my ol Da says was to blame, pushin folk one way for a few years and then a different way next. Mr Jones who farmed the land down our way, that NAFF gave him money to clear out all the edges that he'd helped his grandad lay when he was a nipper. And then this Deathray gave his son money to put them all back, with these broad headlands and beadle banks. Proper fine it is too and the river don't flood not go all brown through the winter now, but all those old, old trees that were lost. But there was mony for it so what was he to do, the old man.

    Young Sylvia, whose got the farm now (always had time for young Sylvie), she says there are all these things she'd really like to do, but its money again, so she can only do some of them, even with these stewartships.

    So what I was thinking, an it's really nice to see these two gennlman farmers takin' up Master Ravery's offer to say hello here (Wouldn't it be nice if the others could pop in for a chat too), what I was thinkiing was that if some of those people from the Farm Union and some of those equally lovely from amongst all those conservasheun groups there seem to be these days, and someone from Defray and Unnatural England and the Entvironment HNC could all meet up - just like they did on those Somerset Levels before the floods- then that would be a good thing to happen. And maybe, just maybe they might all be able to tell everyone else they got a good deal. And just maybe it'll be right and Sylvie will keep her family on the farm and I can see barn owls again.

  11. Mark

    I would be interested to know what age the flooded homes are on the levels. It is of no comfort to those who are flooded out but it may influence future planning decisions. We recently experienced planning consent being given for a residential development in a very active floodplain in the Hampshire Test Valley, albeit branded as holiday homes

    Will these distressing events will influence government thinking on changes to permitted development rights. Current reports are that PDRs are to be changed to enable farmers with disused agricultural buildings to convert/construct up to three modest homes without the necessity of planning consent. All one will need is building reg's and non of that troublesome local consultation that goes with making a planning application. Are we about to see a rash of homebuilding in high risk flood areas? The announcement was reported as 'imminent' in late January.


  12. Rosy Dunn,makes more sense in a few words than lots of politicians rabbiting on with words that are just a lot of hot air.

  13. To be fair to Eric Pickles, these floods to present a number of problems for the Conservatives:

    1. It is now an article of faith on sections of the right that Climate Change is a conspiracy between socialist greens and corrupt scientists on the make. When reality collides with dogma, there will always be problems.

    2. The classic neoliberal response to the floods would be to blame the victims for being so stupid as to buy a house on a flood plain, and tell them to get on their bike and move. This option is not open, because the victims are natural conservative supporters.

    3. The main emotions of the Conservative mindset are fear and anger. However, the usual scapegoats - immigrants, foreigners, poor people - are not credible. Note however that Nigel Garage is gamely trying to conflate the floods and the overseas aid budget and the EU. The flooding is all the fault of those people in 'Bongo Bongo Land'.

    4. This government has an intrinsic hostility to scientific inquiry and expertise generally, preferring to rely on their own 'strongly held beliefs' and 'common sense'.

    As the EA are public servants (and by definition questionable) and include expert hydrologists among their number, little wonder that all these contradictions resulted in Pickles striking out and seeking to blame the EA.

    Lest anyone think that things would be different under Labour, Maria Eagle's response was just to attempt to score political points. We now have a political class incapable of dealing with long terms complex environmental problems like this

    1. Nicely put. And in consequence...

      Q1. Can anyone remember when we last had a political class capable of dealing with long term environmental problems, or even enabling those who were so qualified to do so?

      Q2. Does anyone believe that we will in future (looking at the results of YouGov and Mark(That's you, Guv)'s polls?


      Q3. What, if anything positive, can we do about changing that for the future?


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