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Catfield Fen ripples spread in water wars

You would have to be an addict of this blog with a spectacularly good memory to recall the tiny part that this blog played in a victory to save parts of the Norfolk Broads which have high levels of protection under EU wildlife laws from being damaged by water abstraction. The last blog here on the subject was over two and a half years ago (see here), and the penultimate one was 15 months before that (see here).

The case was all about water abstraction by farmers damaging wetlands of very high nature conservation value, and getting the statutory organisations (The Broads Authority, The Environment Agency and Natural England) whose job it is to protect such sites to pull their fingers out and do so.

So I was interested to see the recent coverage in the Eastern Daily Press and last week’s Sunday Times on the implications of the Catfield Fen case.

Norfolk villagers and farms hit in first water war by Jonathan Leake

Major new pipeline planned from Norwich to Ludham to alleviate Broads water fears by Chris Hill

Mike Flett, chair of Ludham Council is quoted as saying;

My personal view is that the domestic need has to be balanced in favour of the residents – quite frankly I would have put that higher than all other requirements,” he said.

Second would come farming, with the requirement to provide food. Farming is obviously very important here, but not necessarily growing crops that require huge quantities of water.

Sadly, I would say the environment comes third. The environment is certainly important, but not at the expense of people in the area, in my view.

Tim Harris who is the hero behind this victory quite rightly said;

Everyone agrees that the Ant Valley contains the finest valley fens in western Europe.

It is like the Westminster Abbey of nature. It makes absolutely no sense to destroy Westminster Abbey for the sake of a 15pc profit margin for farmers who can grow wheat and barley [without irrigation] rather than potatoes and salads – which is what they were growing here until 1980 anyway.

And for the water companies to resolve their supply issue it is purely a matter of financial investment to bring in water from elsewhere.

This is not just restricted to the Ant Valley. I would be very surprised if the Waveney and the Wensum are not having the same issue.

Local politicians, and most non-local ones, will always put some vague ‘people come first’ argument ahead of damage to internationally important sites on their very doorsteps. There is little evidence that locals are the best people to protect their environment when inconvenience or economic disadvantage may be involved.

If we are to protect even the very best of our remaining wildlife sites (and most threatened species) we need an overview that makes it difficult to trade off the environment (our shared environment). That overview could be, in a post-Brexit UK, a national overview – but I wouldn’t trust our politicians and our system to deliver it. At the moment it is an EU-wide overview (although its implementation has been carried out by the likes of our government ddepartments and statutory agencies, not by a bunch of Walloon-speaking strangers). I wonder what type of Brexit we might have – will it be an environment-protecting Brexit or will it be awful?

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