Dredging not the answer

First published in Letters

Sir – I read with dismay the letters (January 16) from your correspondents in Datchet and Twyford amongst others, calling for dredging of the watercourses around Oxford to prevent flooding.

To have one’s home flooded is a truly horrible experience for anyone and we can only feel enormous sympathy for the many people affected by the current floods. Unfortunately, the simple solution of dredging is not the answer. Dredging of rivers around Oxford is only likely to make flooding worse at Datchet and Twyford — and nearer home, in Abingdon.

Similarly, a new flood defence channel for Oxford would do little for the residents of Witney.

Instead, we need to focus on retaining water much higher up the catchments.

Successful tree-planting schemes, blocking field drains and creating soakaway ponds have all been shown by pioneering schemes in Wales and north Yorkshire as effective measures which significantly reduce flood peaks further downstream.

In 2007, homes in Oxfordshire were flooded by run-off from fields which turned their adjacent roads into rivers. Ensuring that field gateways do not act as flood conduits should be another priority. If we combine these measures with the creation of flood storage areas in the floodplain away from human settlements we can enormously attenuate flooding problems — so that what we are told are one-in-50-years floods do occur once in 50 years and not half a dozen times since 1998.

Of course, we will have to pay farmers to change land use in this way; at the moment the subsidies they receive have exactly the opposite effect!

Dredging by contrast is an “inundate my neighbour” policy which simply shifts flooding downstream to the next vulnerable community. There is a better way and we must embrace it.

Richard Knowles

Secretary, Upper Thames Fisheries Consultative, Oxford

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