Farmers across Somerset are being invited to bid in the UK’s first countywide auction for works to help stop flooding.
The auction will be run online from February 26 – March 12 using a new Environment Agency web app, which can be found at www.nfmauction.org.uk
The website offers Somerset farmers a unique combination of possibilities. First, to select for themselves different natural flood management (NFM) activities. Second, to pick out parts of their land where they believe those activities will produce the best flood prevention results for them and for local communities. Third, to bid for funding for those activities.
As the main purpose of NFM activities in Somerset is to slow the flow of water down through the higher parts of river catchments, the web app will not allow farmers to place bids for land in low-lying Internal Drainage Board areas, but the auction otherwise covers the length and breadth of Somerset.
After the auction closes, bids will be checked by the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group SW (FWAG SW). Grants from Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) will then be given to the best, most competitively-priced ideas.
Cllr John Osman, SRA Chairman, said: “This is still a very new system, but all the signs are that it has many strengths. It cuts out paperwork. It saves time and money. It draws on farmers’ unrivalled knowledge of their own land. It’s easy to use – and it gets results.
“Last summer, as a trial of the web app, there was a much smaller auction in the catchments of the River Tone and River Parrett in Somerset and the SRA gave out 22 grants to winning bids. Flood risks to local communities have been reduced through improvements that farmers have been able to make. So it’s a win-win. Now we’re opening it up across the county, I hope many Somerset farmers will give it a go.”
Grants are being offered for five different natural flood management measures: maize management, grassland subsoiling, hedge planting, soil bunds, and leaky dams. All help to slow the flow of water, while delivering other benefits. Grassland subsoiling, for example, aerates the ground so that more rainwater can filter in; it also improves the soil.
Anthony Gothard, a Stoke St Gregory farmer who won a maize management grant in last year’s trial auction, said: “It only took me a few minutes to place my bid online and there wasn’t any paperwork. I’m really pleased with what I’ve been able to achieve with the grant money.”
Since the devastating flooding of the Somerset Levels in 2013-14, hundreds of natural flood management initiatives have been carried out across Somerset, as part of the county’s pioneering Hills to Levels project and overarching 20 Year Flood Action Plan.
Hills to Levels has so far won two national awards, and this new auction shows Somerset continuing to lead the UK with fresh ideas for tackling local flooding hotspots.