Upper Catchment Management

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 26th April 2017.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central 4:30 pm, 26th April 2017

I am sure we will talk about different schemes that have been put in place. Kevin Hollinrake, who represents my not-quite-neighbouring constituency, is here, and we will consider what has happened at Pickering. We need to ensure that all such schemes slow the flow, because that is really important in addressing these issues.

I am sure all hon. Members agree that it is important that we build evidence—the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton is nodding—about what produces the best solutions for addressing upland management, which is why it is deeply disappointing that the Government have cut the research budget. I want to talk about a specific piece of research that I am going to ask the Minister to review. The University of York has carried out research into moorland management. This extensive piece of work, which is the most comprehensive of its kind, has run for five years at a cost of £1 million to the Government. The university is asking for a further five years of research funding—£660,000—to complete that innovative research, which covers 500 different patches across a whole catchment to look at how best to manage the moorlands. The groundwork has been done, so it is nonsensical not to see it through to completion. Doing so would enable us to see the impact over 10 years, which in turn would have a real impact on constituencies such as mine.

I believe it is best for Government to look for opportunities to save spending money. If that research runs for a further five years, it will address issues such as complete management rotation and the impact of the regrowth of vegetation. We will see the impact across the whole catchment, as well as the impact of time, and what 10 years produces, as opposed to just five.

I said that £660,000 is the upper limit for that piece of research, and that £1 million was spent on the first phase. So far, the university has been able to secure £353,000 from other sources, so it needs only £307,000. The Stockholm Environment Institute will put 20% towards the research, so that figure comes down to only £246,000. I am sure the Minister will agree that spending £246,000 over five years—£49,000 a year—is better than spending £2.3 billion to mop up the disaster from floods and putting barriers in places where they will perhaps not be needed if the research is complete. This is about investment and saving money for the Treasury, which I am sure the Minister would welcome.

My shameless plea is for us to apply some common sense and to extend that unique piece of research, which will improve our climate, reduce flood risk and reduce the prospect of spending so much money downstream. I am all for trying to reduce Government spend if we can invest it in the right places. As a keen walker, I am out and about across the moors and the dales, and I have seen the way the uplands are managed. This research, which is entitled “Restoration of blanket bog vegetation for biodiversity, carbon sequestration and water regulation”, speaks to the need to use evidence to ensure we have better management.

There is more that will come from the research. It has excited academics beyond our shores, and has encouraged them to look at what we are doing. They want it to be completed, which is why we have got interest from Sweden. The Moorlands Association also said it is vital, which is why it is willing to put resource into it. Members of the public—it is their taxes and their money—do not want to see future floods. Therefore, they want their money to be spent prudently. At £49,000 a year, we could not get a better investment in something that will be so significant.

The research has concluded that how the uplands are managed has an impact on the amount of water that comes downstream. We had a debate on grouse moor shooting and how to manage the moors in that context. If we look at burning versus mowing the heather, it brings a 10% to 20% reduction in the amount of water coming downstream, which is significant. In a place such as my city of York, we are talking about 40 cm of water, which would have greatly reduced the damage caused on Boxing day 2015. That is significant.