Tag Archives: flooding

Australian beef and how far ahead do you want to worry?

It has to be said that people do seem to enjoy a bit of good old fashioned gloom and despondency. Every silver lining has a cloud. As Noel Coward sang, “There are bad times just around the corner.”

‘They’re mad at Market Harborough

And livid at Leigh-on-Sea,

In Tunbridge Wells

You can hear the yells

Of woe-begone bourgeoisie.

We all get bitched about, lads,

Whoever our vote elects,

We know we’re up the spout, lads.

And that’s what England expects.

Hurray, hurray, hurray!

Trouble is on the way.

There are bad times just around the corner,

The horizon’s gloomy as can be,

There are black birds over

The grayish cliffs of Dover

And the rats are preparing to leave the BBC

We’re an unhappy breed

And very bored indeed

When reminded of something that Nelson said.

While the press and the politicians nag nag nag

We’ll wait until we drop down dead.’

It has to be admitted that the last five years have really pushed forward the frontiers of doomsaying. If I had a pound for every time somebody told me that this country would collapse to third world status, I’d probably have the cash to put in an offer and buy it.

The problem seems to be one of mental attitude. People are so delighted to find another thing to point the finger at and claim, ‘we’re all doomed’ that they don’t bother looking at the small print.

So I want to look at the ‘big picture’ by squinting closely at some of the detail. The current cry of woe is that thanks to leaving the EU and signing a deal with the Australians, our beef industry is doomed and the British public will have to eat beef produced using artificial hormones.

The pundits are starting to think this will be unlikely. “Former NFU chief economist Sean Rickard predicted that not much would change in the next two years, but significant change would be felt in 10-15 years’ time.”


Indeed, according to AHDB, since the start of 2020, Australian beef has been more expensive than UK produced beef. If we’d had a free trade deal with the Australians they might have been buying our beef, not the other way around. If anything, at the moment our beef price is held down by Irish imports from the EU. We’ve lived with cheaper Irish imports for well over a century.


Now obviously the Australian situation might be a blip. But Australia has seen a few bad bushfire years. Even without arguing whether climate change is man-made, (because that isn’t an argument for this blog post) it’s evident when looking at the past, climates do change. This is obvious, at the very least because we have had ice ages.   If we work on the principle that climate change is going to continue for at least another decade, (even if it’s cyclical and might start dropping in another century) by 2030 the Australians might even be net importers of beef.

Then what about dear old Blighty? In 2030/35 are we going to be enthusiastic importers of Australian beef? After all, it’s probably three general elections off, so gods alone know what sort of government we’ve got or what sort of regulation we have in place.
But according to current plans, by 2030, if you want a new car in the UK, it will have to be electric. If you buy it new house it almost certainly won’t have gas central heating, indeed by then, if your gas boiler fails, you will probably have to replace it with something else because nobody makes gas boilers any more. Now these new technologies might be cheaper, more efficient, and leave you with a larger disposable income, or they might not. I’ll let you decide for yourself how much gloom and doom you want to wallow in on this front.

Indeed, all sorts of things seem to be coming down the track. We appear to be getting more rain, and when it comes, it comes in larger quantities over a smaller period. So we will see more flooding. You remember all these houses that local authorities cheerfully allowed to be built on the flood plain? At what point is it going to be the sensible thing to just demolish them, return the flood plain to being a flood plain, and insist people have grass in their gardens rather than concreting them over to park cars on. That way water doesn’t run off as fast. And if they can no longer afford cars, then they might as well have grass to sit on, because they’re not going anywhere soon anyway. After all who will take a tourist flight when you’re accused of wanting to watch the world burn?

It’s remarkably easy to build an atmosphere of alarm and despondency. In fact the last year or so has shown us that a fair proportion of the population are perfectly happy to be frightened and made to stay in the house, provided they keep full salary and can ‘work from home’.

But looking fifteen years ahead is about as meaningful as asking to see the weather forecast that far ahead for one particular day and one particular place.

After all, in fifteen years will there be a UK? Will the UK, if it exists, be part of the EU again, or will the EU have split as well? Indeed looking at China, where the communist party has just celebrated a centenary, a hundred years is good going for a Chinese Dynasty.

Looking at agriculture, at the very least they’ll still need an agriculture. Even if they’re feeding the proles on kibble bars, they’ll still need somebody to grow the stuff. But when and how will the food be grown?
If we have heavier rainfall, even without rising sea levels some land might no longer be ploughable. Indeed there’s a strong argument for going back to farming water meadows properly. That will increase the need for grazing livestock, but on the other hand, if we lose lowland arable due to a sharp rise in the water table, we might be looking at ploughing further up the hill. I remember talking to one agronomist who commented that the finest crop of barley he’d ever seen was grown at over a thousand feet in North Cumbria.

So frankly beating your breast and bewailing the end of days because of a trade deal with the Australians that could have serious implications in ten to fifteen years’ time is frankly unprofessional. A competent doomsayer can find a score of better reasons for wailing and gnashing their teeth.


There again, what do I know. 

Available from Amazon in paperback or kindle.
Available from everywhere else as an ebook from here


As a reviewer commented, “This book charts a year in the life of a Cumbrian sheep farmer. It’s sprinkled with anecdotes and memories of other years. Some parts (especially when featuring Sal, the Border Collie) were so funny as to cause me to have to read them out loud to my husband. It’s very interesting to read these things from the pen of the man who is actually out there doing it – usually in the rain! A very good read.”

Not everybody likes the wet


When I let Sal out this morning, she showed no real signs of enthusiasm. She followed me, picking her way fastidiously around the water. She abandoned this when she discovered that, in reality, the water, be it slush or rainwater, was everywhere.
When I woke up this morning, there was snow cover of a sort, but the rain had already started. Apparently for a while Barrow was cut off. This isn’t because our highway authority is incompetent, it’s just that there’s effectively just one road and if an artic skids on the wrong roundabout, we’re cut off. Yes there is another way out, but that goes up through the lakes and in summer it’s effectively blocked by tourists, and in bad weather it’s not what I’d call a pleasant drive.

But Sal and I went to feed round a few heifers, who to be fair were glad to see us. Certainly they seemed happier that Sal was. Although even she perked up when she discovered that there was still snow, of a sort, on the lawn. She genuinely frolicked at that point and rolled in it enthusiastically.

As you can see, the day has made an effort. First it genuinely attempted to snow, but as you can see, it’s hardly overwhelming.


Then it’s made a half-hearted attempt to get light as well. To be honest I think today is going to be one of those days where we work in the gloom.

The other problem with snow and slush is that it has to be moved. So scraping out the yards takes twice as long because you aren’t merely shifting the muck, you’re shifting the slush as well.
Remember that we’re an area that is geared up to handle water. There are places in the UK which aren’t used to it. About thirty years ago I remember travelling with a family friend in the south and it threw a really heavy shower. So heavy they were wondering about pulling off the road, they’d never really seen anything like it. This rather surprised me as we’ll get showers like that most months, especially in winter.

But what really staggered me was suddenly everything was flooded. Here in Cumbria, our highway engineers know that you have to have drains along the sides of roads. Not only that, but whilst our local authorities do get caught out at times, they do know the importance of keeping the drains clean.

And me? I’ve got one waterproof drying, and am wearing my previous pair of working trousers. This is because my current working trousers are sodden and are hopefully drying in from of the Rayburn.

Working trousers have to be really bad before they get thrown out, they’ll always come in for an hour or two during wet weather. If, when I go back out, this pair get soaked and the ‘good’ ones still aren’t dry, there’s another pair that I can put on. Admittedly they’re not the sort of garment you could wear in company but still they’ll keep the wind off when worn with a long waterproof.


Sal does keep having difficult days

As a reviewer commented, “I always enjoy Jim’s farming stories, as he has a way of telling a tale that is entertaining but informative at the same time. I’ve learned a lot about sheep while reading this book, and always wondered how on earth a sheepdog learns to do what it does – but I know now that a new dog will learn from an old one. There were a few chuckles too, particularly at how Jim dealt with unwanted salespeople. There were a couple of shocks regarding how the price of cattle has decreased over the years, and also sadly how the number of UK dairy farms has dropped from 196,000 in 1950 to about 10,000 now.
Jim has spent his whole life farming and has acquired a wealth of knowledge, some of which he shares in this delightful book.”




A hard rain in the north

I’m about to break with tradition and who knows, I might even set a trend. Who’d believe it, a blogger ranting about something they know a little about?


So here goes.

Some time ago I was involved in the Flood Defence Advisory Committee covering Cumbria and North Lancashire. It was part of the National Rivers Authority. This existed between 1989 and 1996. It was a result of one of Margaret Thatcher’s last privatisations. To quote the wiki (because I’m idle and it’s correct)

“Before 1989 the regulation of the aquatic environment had largely been carried out by the ten Regional Water Authorities (RWAs). The RWAs were responsible for the supply and distribution of drinking water, sewerage and sewage disposal, land drainage and flood risk management, fisheries, water quality management, pollution prevention, water resource management and many aspects of the management of aquatic ecology and some aspects of recreation. With the passing of the Water Act 1989, the 10 Water Authorities in England and Wales were privatised by flotation on the stock market. They took the water supply, sewerage and sewage disposal activities into the privatised companies. The remaining duties remained with the newly created National Rivers Authority.”

The Flood Defence Advisory Committee was composed of local authority reps, plus some from local industry and agriculture (me) so it meant that the community got to look at what was going on. But two things struck me at the time. The staff of the NRA had largely come from the Regional Water Authorities. They were for the most part engineers. Up until the creation of the NRA they had been ‘sat upon’ by the RWAs who as part of the state did such things as cheerfully dump poorly treated sewage because proper treatment plants ‘weren’t in budget’. Now the gloves were off, and whilst their colleagues were now no longer bureaucrats but the highly paid employees of a privatised company it was the engineers who could hold their feet to the fire and make damned sure they actually spent the money and fulfilled their legal obligations.

This they did. At times there was almost an air of schadenfreude in the air as they recounted tales of ex-bureaucrats who had spent a career avoiding having to install the proper plant, now facing major fines if they didn’t. Obviously there was a price to pay, and by and large it was paid by the user. But then, the question has to be asked, “If you don’t want your faeces to join you on the beach for a summer holiday, who is responsible for paying for your faeces to be properly disposed of?

The other thing that struck me was that these guys knew their stuff. They had good relations with plant hire firms, they knew the waterways and they made sure that the regular work was done. They were so good that one chap I knew was headhunted personally by the government of Bangladesh because they needed the best.

But time moves on and we were ‘blessed’ with the Environment Agency. It was created under an act passed by John Major, but the problem came when the incoming Labour Government appointed people to lead it.

To an extent the Environment Agency has been a victim of government. When you look at the people chosen to lead it, there was Labour peeress, Baroness Young of Old Scone, chair of English Nature; vice chairman of the BBC; board member of AWG plc; Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and of a number of local health authorities. She was not merely reluctant to dredge rivers, she is famously said to have remarked that she wanted to see ‘a limpet mine attached to every pumping station’. She was followed by Chris Smith, environmental spokesman under John Smith in opposition, but only Culture Secretary under Tony Blair in government.

You can judge the attitude of governments by the people they appoint. Frankly it is obvious that previous governments haven’t taken flooding, land drainage and agriculture seriously.

It isn’t just government. For example in Cumbria there has been an effort to ‘turn the pumps off’ in areas like the Lyth Valley, the RSPB has ranted about this over on http://www.rspb.org.uk/whatwedo/campaigningfornature/casework/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-295709


But let’s put it bluntly. Rather than being three decades, the Lyth Valley was first drained just after the Napoleonic Wars. Switching pumps off, thus allowing the levels to rise means that people whose houses are ‘still protected’ will have septic tanks that are below the water table for much of the year and will spent their time driving along roads which regularly flood. Not only that but the main A590 was cut in the flooding this year meaning that 100,000 people were cut off from such things as regular deliveries of milk and bread, you know, life’s little luxuries. With the Lyth Valley pumps switched off that is likely to become more common.

Indeed the RSPB might well have more say on the policies of the Environment Agency than local communities, given that the EA claimed they couldn’t afford the £4.5 million that it would have cost to dredge the rivers down on the Somerset Levels, but somehow found £31 million for a bird sanctuary.

So what to do? Well get the engineers back in charge for a start. Let’s get rivers cleaned out properly. As one chap said, ‘If the bath is overflowing and you cannot turn the taps off, you don’t build up the sides of the bath, you take the bluidy plug out.”

Then stop local authorities building on the flood plain.

Whalley Arches


I checked this picture out; because it was so good I wondered if it had been photo-shopped.

But no, it’s right. And one of the papers followed up and checked with the local Planning Authority. As required to do, the Planning Authority consulted the EA on three applications that made up that development. The EA made no comment on two of the applications and in the third case it said it “had no objection in principle.”

Strikes me, somebody needs to find their P45 waiting for them on their desk when they get back to work after Christmas.


GLENRIDDING-FLOODS_3522632bYes, it’s Cumbria, we’re used to rain, but there are limits. So with the flooding, what’s happened?
Well of course, if you want anything done, send in the army (and the other emergency services.)

I saw one digger driver interviewed. Sick of being made to sit in their diggers because it was too dangerous, they waited for petty officialdom to knock off for the day before starting up the diggers and getting the job done.

I was talking to one chap who crept along flooded roads, and across the bridge, only to find his way off the bridge blocked by a local government employee engaged in closing the bridge, because the bridge was unsafe. Because the road was already ‘blocked’ the jobsworth wouldn’t open it up to let him through, instead he forced him to reverse back across the bridge that was so unsafe they were closing the road, and take his chance once more with the flooding on the other side.

It doesn’t matter how bad things get, there are folk whose presence you know will somehow ensure things get worse.

Yet as usual in Cumbria, folk rallied round and got stuck in. What decent folk could do to help their neighbours, decent folk did. And other decent folk came up to help from all over the place, people of all creeds and backgrounds and from all sorts of different places and it was good to have them.

But what are we going to do about it?

Let’s be brutally frank about it. A lot of building has been done in areas that were prone to flooding. Because of this building, the rivers have been more hemmed in, and thus they’re more prone to flooding that people notice. They always did flood, but the land owner knew to move cattle out of the field in wet weather, the hint is in the term ‘flood plain.’ The climate is changing (this isn’t an ideological point; the climate is always changing, always has changed and always will changed. It’s entirely possible that in the natural cycle of these things, in half a millennia Cumbria will get a lot drier again, but let’s worry about our life times.)

So what are we going to do? Well at the moment a lot of houses are only insured because government did a deal with insurance companies so that the rest of us cross-subsidise them. Getting insurance for commercial building could be more tricky.

Now there’s talk of using land upstream for sacrifice flooding. Firstly I’ve heard talk but seen no really convincing plans which show exactly how it’ll work. There’s talk of planting more trees to reduce run-off. There might be enthusiasm for planting more trees along the side of  Thirlmere to stop the fellside sliding into the road as well. But this is all National Park; best of luck in getting anything done quickly. It’s difficult enough to get permission to dredge rivers properly in Cumbria, doing that would probably be a good start.

So let’s be sensible. Rather that trying to shift the blame and the cost upstream onto those who haven’t made a penny out of rates and rents on buildings erected on the flood plain, how about being sensible. Any non-residential area that has flooded in the last two floods, just demolish it, get rid of the concrete, turn it back to grass. Plant it was willow if you want, make it a park, but let it flood. See what happens. Does that reduce the flooding into housing? If it does, great, but if, with this done and the rivers cleaned out properly, we have housing estates that are still flooding, then I think we’re going to have to look at compensating the owners, demolishing them and rebuilding somewhere more sensible.

When we have events that aren’t supposed to happen twice in several centuries happening twice in a decade, it’s probably time to stop fannying about.