Severn flood prevention plan stalls as Welsh and UK governments in funding deadlock

Ambitious plans to prevent flooding along the River Severn are at a standstill because neither the Welsh nor UK government has agreed to fund them.

The plans, drawn up by the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, involve restoring a vast area of peatland in mid-Wales around the source of the Severn.

The Trust has been trying to secure funding for the last five years, but so far neither government has committed.

Clive Faulkner, the Trust’s chief executive said: "We’ve got a situation where, essentially, Wales has all of the water and England gets all the flooding and we need to work out how that works – at what level can you address that?

"That’s a really political question," added Mr Faulkner, who has hosted visits from representatives of both governments to the area and says there is "genuinely a lot of interest".

The so-called "Pumlumon Project", named after the highest point in the Cambrian Mountains, involves a radical rethink of how land is managed across an area of Wales the size of Birmingham.

As you approach the source of the Severn, deep in the Welsh hills, the problem is immediately apparent.

Peat that once covered the landscape has been reduced to isolated clumps, with the edges breaking down and blowing away with each gust of wind.

"You can see these weird stacks of peat," says Mr Faulkner. "I always say they’re like icebergs of peat and they’re melting away just like the ice caps."

Mr Faulkner adds: "The peat is like a lovely sponge absorbing all the rain and when that’s gone it just sheets off the mountain and floods.

"We’re seeing more and more floods directly because of this change in the uplands.

"What we do know is we can repair these peatlands, we can fix them."

Last year, large parts of Shropshire and Worcestershire experienced devastating flooding when the Severn burst its banks.

The flood, described as a "once in a generation" event, led to the head of the Environment Agency calling for a conversation about the sustainability of riverside communities in the long term.

Mr Faulkner and his team believe changes to land management and farming near the river’s source could make a real difference.

He told Sky News: "We’re used to the idea that farmers produce crops, but actually I would argue that the flood water here could be a crop.

"This water is going to run down and flood cities downstream, but why don’t the farmers get a payment to store that water within the peat?

"In doing that they’re going to be saving the peat from erosion, they’re going to be locking away carbon, preventing climate change, they’re going to be doing great things for biodiversity and that income is going to be really valuable to supporting those communities, so where is the downside?"

The downside for farmers would be turning their backs on generations of traditional Welsh hill farming.

Jane Lloyd Francis owns a farm in the hills above Machynlleth and believes farmers would consider the plans if the financial benefits were sufficient.

"I think that farmers are looking at efficiency and they’ve got to make a living so there has to be a balance about the financial reward for giving up the land," she says.

"I think it’s the responsibility of government now to help farmers say, ‘this is the land that you drained so we could have more sheep in the 70s and 80s, well now we need you to block it all up and revert to bog again because we need that more than we need sheep’."

The Welsh government says any decision on funding will be a matter for the next government, with elections taking place next week.

Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) declined to comment on the plans.

Mr Faulkner believes the entire project would cost no more than £5m.

"We could do it as a subsidy to pay the farmers to manage the land or we could actually go and get corporates to pay for the carbon that they’re using and offset it against the management of the land," he says.

"A few million is a tiny amount compared with the amount that we’re going to have to spend on all of the issues that we’re going to get with flooding.

"We’ve got a major problem and it’s going to cost us so much more than the small amount – a few million pounds – to pay this community up here to manage this land. It’s a bargain."

Sky News broadcasts the first daily prime time news show dedicated to climate change.

Hosted by Anna Jones, The Daily Climate Show is following Sky News correspondents as they investigate how global warming is changing our landscape and how we all live our lives.

The show will also highlight solutions to the crisis and show how small changes can make a big difference.

Watch on Sky News each day at 6.30pm and 9.30pm, or online and on the Sky News app.

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