Farming Today, today

I’m staying with friends wondering whether Peregrine Run is a good bet in the 2:50 at Cheltenham this afternoon, so when I woke at around the fairly usual 05:15 I didn’t wander down the landing to my computer and start some work. Instead I used my ‘phone as a computer and listened to Farming Today (which I don’t normally do).

Farming Today is not my favourite radio programme and I regard it as a good place to find occasional examples of poor reporting – often examples which muddy the environmental waters, like, in my opinion, today.

Today in the introduction to the programme the presenter said ‘Can planting trees reduce the worst flooding? We hear how the science is inconclusive’.  Note, not can planting trees reduce flooding, but can planting trees reduce the worst flooding (undefined).

And note not ‘Does planting trees reduce flooding?’, but ‘Can planting trees reduce flooding?’.  ‘Does’, ‘Can’, not much difference really? Well, does Peregrine Run win the 2:50 at Cheltenham this afternoon, or can Peregrine Run win the 2:50 at Cheltenham this afternoon?  I know it can, but will it?

To say that the evidence is inconclusive that natural measures can reduce flooding is to say that it might be a pipe-dream, that there may be no basis in it at all even if we learn from what we are doing at the moment and do it better and differently in future.  It’s quite a big claim.  In contrast, to say that it doesn’t is a much smaller claim because it depends on current actions and methods, not on biological reality. Words are quite powerful things aren’t they? Even little words like ‘can’ and ‘does’.

When the piece came along it started with another the introduction saying ‘…but a paper published today in a Royal Society journal says ‘Claims that natural flood management will alleviate the worst floods aren’t supported by scientific evidence’ but then became much more circumspect a little later saying that the scientists found that ‘…while natural measures are valuable in the prevention of floods they aren’t a silver bullet’.

So we’ve gone from ‘Science can’t tell us whether natural measures can prevent the worst flooding to ‘Scientists say that natural measures do prevent flooding but don’t stop it altogether and may not be the whole of the answer everywhere and always’.  The programme also didn’t tell us specifically about whether planting trees reduces flooding it dealt with the rather general and undefined issue of ‘natural measures’ which may include many things as far as I know at the moment without reading the paper itself.

When the scientist from Oxford was interviewed, and his words will have been selected by the editing team at Farming Today, he said that natural flood measures can have an important impact but they aren’t a silver bullet and that the further down the catchment one goes the impacts seem to diminish. Well that all makes sense but one is left with a very different impression from hearing the interview than being led into it by Farming Today’s rather sensational introduction. The researcher said ‘There is definitely a place for natural flood management in the jigsaw of flood risk management in general’.

I’ll read the report, some time after Peregrine Run’s race, to make up my own mind.

My prediction is that there is enough evidence to show that, done properly, existing small examples of natural flood management reduce impacts on people, but you have to do the right things in the right places, and that if done on a larger scale (because we don’t do much at the moment) there could be a lot more scope. But I’m guessing.  I’m guessing about Peregrine Run too.

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22 Replies to “Farming Today, today”

  1. I didn't catch this mornings programme but do totally agree on past reporting! Not only Farming Today.. Countryfile has at times been guilty of the same 'biased based' reporting!

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  2. I had the same disappointment with the Today Programme yesterday morning getting Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall saying something like that the N pollution affecting our plants wasn't really a problem as we can eat nettles and hogweed. Does he really believe this, or did the programme ask him what you could do to eat these two species? No sense that managing our environment for the full range of things we want and need from it is really pretty complex.

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    1. worse, he didnt point out that many similar plants to hogweed are very poisonous (Water dropworts, hemlock) and many are also rarer. They also mentioned eating fern tops - I think they meant Bracken - the Japanese have the highest incidence of throat cancer because they do that.. plus most ferns other than Bracken are much rarer and are not pests that seemed a stupid thing to recommend. The only time nettle is good to eat is about now - the top couple of leaves from young new spring growth IS worth eating but is not an effective means to reduce the plants presence in our environment. I was quite appalled at the piece being aired, and it seemed lower depths than the usual.

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  3. I does think you would've been better posting a link to the programme so that readers can make their own mind up.
    One of your poorer reads that does not do it for me.
    Can do better like.

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    1. Andy - well if I had had the time and technology I would have done. It's not that difficult to find really is it? You'll be asking for you money back next. ... ah, no you won't.

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      1. "if I had had the ... technology"

        But you do - you used your ‘phone as a computer. Most of us just use it as a radio. I'm with Tesco Mobile so I can only hear Today tomorrow

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    2. Seems like Mark woke-up this morning in a more thoughtful mood than your sadly negative one. Got anything useful to offer?

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  4. Yorkshire post seem to have picked up on this http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/natural-defences-no-silver-bullet-on-flooding-academics-warn-1-8438856

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  5. God forbid the BBC should challenge the prejudices of blinkered idiots in the farming industry eh?

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    1. Dr,I would have thought it was presenters and editors who put the program on and nothing to do with your hated idiots as you describe them.

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  6. I thought it was quite gentlemanly of Humphrys (?) to help out the Plantlife Lady when she corpsed.

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  7. They did mention beavers, though with Derek Gow... I missed the first half due to being half asleep......will listen again soon to help the afternoon's work along.

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  8. Sadly the BBC ain't what it used to be:(

    Yes there are some good examples but Countryfile & Farming Today seem to have 'political agendas' and appear to have been 'parasitized' by other interests?

    Ever an agnostic ....

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  9. It's also worth noting this conclusion from the paper:

    "With the current state of scientific knowledge, it is not possible to state unequivocally whether the lack of demonstrable effect at large scale is because noticeable flood mitigation could not be achieved in a large catchment, or because a sufficiently large-scale set of interventions have not yet been implemented"

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  10. Underlying this item seems to be the farming religion that every square inch of the countryside should be farmed to the limit for food and food alone. It is hardly surprising that this translates into the attitude that if something on its own doesn't solve the problem it must be flawed. The key truth here is that hard defences have been proved not to do it on their own, and no one - certainly not my fellow foresters - are claiming that soft defences, let alone only trees, will do it on their own. We have here a straight clash between an outdated sectoral approach vs an outcome led approach deploying a range of tools to crack a difficult problem. Trees in this context are primarily a tool for flood management, with things like timber and wildlife as potential additional benefits. And, done right, trees in the right place can have a significant impact. Farmers and the farming religion aren't the same thing - farmers will do it if they are paid, and I think they should be paid for delivering hard eco-system benefits. That is no more a subsidy than the money you pay your water company to supply you with water at home.

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    1. This would suggest otherwise thankfully and a refreshing change. However, I haven't been able to find any more info on the scheme as yet though.
      "Defra has launched a special round of their Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund for areas that might benefit from Natural Flood Management. Over 3 years, the scheme provides funding for a facilitator to work with a farmer group to look at a range of Natural Flood Management (NFM) techniques, which can include reducing soil compaction as well as other measures such as strategic hedgerow and woodland planting. The facilitator’s role will include organising workshops and events, but also helping the farmers within the group access Countryside Stewardship Schemes and other grants to implement Natural Flood Management.

      The Farmer Network is heading up a bid to the Facilitation Fund for the Swaledale catchment, in partnership with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA), with advice being provided by the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust (YDRT).

      There are 17 farmers in the area that have signed up to being part of the group...........

      Being part of the group involves the farmers committing where possible to attending events/ workshops on the theme of Natural Flood Management."

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  11. Yes some BBC stuff seems very poorly researched these days. They seem obsessed with " balance" but in doing so fail to distinguish between a well rounded factually based case and a diatribe of prejudice, distortions, lies and good old fashioned bullshit, it seems if you sound convincing it is part of that balance. I have never heard a burglar or car thief in a discussion of urban crime why the hell do the dark side get to talk about wildlife crime!

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    1. At least they drew on a report by experts, rather than their Usual Suspect simplistic approach to complicated issues.

      "Endoscopic vein harvesting offers improved postoperative recovery, better long-term patient survival and superior freedom from re-intervention in coronary artery bypass surgery but the evidence is sparse and there are significant patient-specific interactions. George - what do you think? ..."

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  12. Something headlined in a very similar vein appeared this morning in the Daily Mirror online: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/no-evidence-natural-flood-defence-10028472

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  13. Other reporting is just as bad. Have to ask what the researchers expected. Experienced lead, should know how to manage media, have to assume he did - and has got what he wanted. He can blame poor media handling, nothing his fault. Others might wish they could get as much from a mere literature review. After all, no-one thought the evidence was all in.

    It's not for me, of course but two point:

    Appendix A (c) seems to support all of the stuff people have been saying about management of the upper catchment - note (15) and (17) especially.

    Their extension from small to large scale does not seem to to me to hold together. The underlying point is that, unsurprisingly, there is not enough evidence. To say, therefore, that the evidence to date is not a policy guide is fair enough except that there is no serious attempt to say why results at a small scale cannot be extrapolated to a larger scale.

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  14. Not sure planting trees is a "natural measure" - the natural measure would be to allow conditions for natural regeneration to occur - assuming a reasonably healthy seed bank was there allowing seeds to reach the ground to germinate, ensuring that browsing isn't so excessive that all the seedlings get eaten and that the countryside isn't so overrun with tree diseases that the new and established trees all get killed off.

    If these conditions can't be met, and the "right trees in the right place" are needed to at least get things started then if it's done with care, fine. But planting isn't a natural process - it's a human intervention (albeit a 'soft' one).

    I'll get off my hobby horse now 🙂

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