The Environment Agency (EA) has defended its work to protect the south coast from flooding after recent storms saw shopping areas inundated alongside farmland.
South East Farmer correspondent Nick Adames, who has long campaigned on behalf of landowners whose land is under water for much of the winter, said Storm Babet and Storm Ciaran had left the area around Bognor Regis “flooded more that I have seen it since I was a boy in the early fifties”.
He accused the EA of “doing nothing except issuing flood warning notices”, adding: “Meanwhile, anger over their neglect is mounting.”
Mr Adames said the issue was that local ‘rifes’ that should drain excess water through the sea wall were unable to do so because the final one, the Aldingbourne Rife, was “well blocked, with silt, rushes, dumped rubbish and a council car park built over the top making access almost impossible”. He added: “Meanwhile our lower farmland is a sea for some four miles north, almost to the Downs.”
Asked by South East Farmer why it did not “simply clear the rifes and allow the water to drain to the sea”, an EA spokesperson said it was “acutely aware of the impacts flooding can have on farmers and the agriculture sector”.
The spokesperson added: “Our teams are working hard on the ground to help people recover from Storm Babet and the current impacts being felt by Storm Ciaran.
“As part of our annual maintenance programme we carry out grass cutting and weed control along the Aldingbourne Rife and we continue to work with landowners, the NFU, the MP and local authorities to reduce local flooding impacts.
“Together with our longer-term investment plans we have also committed to carrying out a silt survey of the rife, jointly funded with Southern Water, to help inform the flood risk management actions landowners can take.”
The EA also said that in the two years to April 2023 it had “better protected around 148,000 hectares of agricultural land through our flooding investment programme”. It added: “Working with farmers and landowners is also an important part of our flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy roadmap up to 2026, which is supported by a wide range of partners, including the NFU.”
Mr Adames, who estimated that he and neighbouring farmers had 400 to 500 acres of good farmland under water, later said the EA had temporarily installed two large pumps at Bognor to ease the situation but stressed that “until they listen to the farmers and dredge the rifes the problem will not go away”.