Moorland Burning

Part of Asylum Seekers and Permission to Work – in Westminster Hall at 4:57 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 4:57 pm, 18th November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I thank my hon. Friend Olivia Blake for excellently setting out the science for us today. The Minister has a clear choice to make. We need progress and we need decisions, because we have been here many times before, not least as we are heading into COP26, where this kind of issue will be on the table.

The Minister knows that I frequently speak about flooding—York floods—but the frequency and height of the flooding is worsening. Two weeks ago, we had our second flood this year—the river rose to 4.22 metres—following one in February. We have had others since the devastating floods of 2015, when 453 households and 174 businesses in my constituency flooded.

In 2017, I held a debate in this Chamber on the research carried out by the University of York to improve moorland management. I made the case that ending moorland burning would improve our climate and biodiversity and vastly reduce flooding and the need for expenditure downstream on floodwalls and barriers. Last weekend, yet again, I met with businesses and heard their stories once more about the devastation that flooding brings. I spoke to people who still experience stress every time those rivers rise. One, already struggling after the lockdown, was no longer able to get insurance. There was a flood in February at the start of the lockdown. York’s economy has been devastated this year because of this. The cost is there for all to see.

I say to the Minister, it is five years since we heard promises that these issues would be addressed. We do not need more surveys, questions and debates; we need action. The research undertaken by the University of York looked at the restoration of blanket bog vegetation for biodiversity, carbon sequestration and water regulation. The evidence was powerful, proving strongly that mowing, not burning, moorland curbed water run-off and could remove 20% of excess flow, dropping the flood level in York by 40 centimetres. That would be really significant to our city.

With further investment in slow the flow schemes, planting and adjustment to farming, even greater gains could be made. That would militate against the soil degradation and loss of absorption that burning and the consequential drought bring. It would improve air quality, water quality, soil quality and biodiversity. It would cut costs and improve our climate.

Currently, York is having to build higher and higher barriers, at the cost of £45 million. That is not what our city wants. We want to stop the water coming down at its current pace. The national flood resilience review said that upper catchment management would be covered in the next comprehensive spending review, which is due a week today. I trust that I will see lines in the Budget that will enable proper upper catchment management, or will that be another broken promise? Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us this afternoon.

On 16 February the Secretary of State for the Environment came to York; he announced that a York flood conference would take place this year in the city. He cannot come to York and make promises to the people of my city, who have experienced flooding, and then walk away when the floodwaters go. Since his visit, we have been flooded again. We need that conference. The flooding in York is not caused by rain falling in York; the water comes down the Ure, the Nidd and the Swale from West Yorkshire. Therefore, we urgently need to talk as Yorkshire together, to make sure that we get the right mitigation in the right places, and that starts on the moorlands.