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.