Upper Catchment Management

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

Alert me about debates like this

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

I dispute the hon. Gentleman’s point because I sat down with the research scientists and looked through the evidence they produced. They say it is 40 cm, but that could increase beyond that for certain scenarios. They want to carry out a 10-year research project to make sure that the data have even more rigour than the five-year research project carried out to date. Although there are differences in the way in which the water flows, and we want other measures such as filling in the grips and so on, the evidence clearly suggests that a different form of moorland management will make a difference in the amount of water that comes downstream.

We do not get the benefit from only the water flow. There are many other by-products. For instance, different management of the moorlands will produce greater soil resilience, which means that there would be less summer drought in the moorlands, thereby sustaining the bio-habitat over the summer and for a longer period, which is a real benefit, and we would increase the quality of the soil. We know from the debate we had on soil quality how important that is. Improving absorption is also important. On a climate issue, burning puts carbon into the atmosphere, leaving charcoal behind as a by-product as opposed to holding that in the soil.

It is also important to see this matter as part of a wider environmental strategy. I am sure the Minister will remind us that all of that will be discussed in the 25-year environment plan. To her embarrassment, I am sure, the plan was going to be produced before summer 2016, and then we were told we would get the framework before Christmas—so we cannot even use the Brexit argument now—but we are still waiting on that 25-year plan. It is a 25-year plan to write, I am convinced.

The Environmental Audit Committee has also recognised the need for more joined-up thinking about the benefits of such a framework. Bringing in issues such as how we improve planting and planting in the right place is vital in catchment management.

There is recognition that where heather is burned, we get greater germination of the seeds, which then bring heather. However, it has been shown that mowing means we get more shoots coming off the heather. For those who go out grouse shooting and support it, which I do not, mowing is better for that sport—if we can call it a sport; I probably would not. Mowing is also less labour-intensive, so it is good for those managing the moorlands.

Air quality, water quality, soil quality and biodiversity all come together here, and a 10-year study of the impact on all of them is significant. Anyone who is keen on the environment and on seeing environmental measures advanced will want to support that research, which I remind the Minister would cost only £49,000 a year. That study is required. It is long term, and it will improve our environment.

I say to the Minister, on behalf of my constituents who face the devastation, that this is about their money and their future. They have experienced real difficulties during the flooding and still are. Building evidence-based policy, which is surely what the Government want to do, by investing in a little piece of research will make a significant change. I trust that she will commit today to review that piece of research and its second phase and agree to fund the small price that it costs.