LEAVE IT TO BEAVER -NATURE`S ROLE IN FLOOD DEFENSE Peter Smith - Rewilding Expert: Speaking at The Flood Expo 2015 Beavers, wild horses and even wolves can cut the costs of flood defence and all this can be achieved by saving the taxpayer a fortune
ABOUT PETER SMITH - WILDLIFE FLOOD EXPERT
Peter is an ecologist and founder and Chief Executive of the Wildwood Trust and has been for the past 13 years. Wildwood Trust was created to champion practical `re-wilding` projects using animal like Beavers and wild horses in ecological restoration projects. On top of running the charity Peter leads a successful consultancy specialising in mitigating and restoring wetland habitat for water voles. Peter also acts as a consultant to `rewilding` schemes, giving advice to Government agencies and leading wildlife charities.
Peter is a regular commentator on wildlife matters in the media and has developed and taken part in a number of popular wildlife television series and is often seen as a guest on BBC`s Countryfile and Springwatch programmes.
Peter has increasingly developed an interest in economics and how economic policy is at the root of issues such as wildlife loss and flooding.
The issue of flooding are very complex, more than what present debates encompass. We have to look at climate and land use change. Changes in agriculture (and built up areas) but mostly agriculture have changed the way water moves through catchments. The best statistical analysis has yet to demonstrate any change in waterfall in the last 100 years in the UK (there are statistically significant changes in the last 30 years or so). But land use changes have been chiefly responsible for the increased risk of both peak and low flows in our water courses.
The fundamental issue is to use the lands ability to hold and store water efficiently to buffer peak and low flows and how it is absorbed into aquifers both in our situation today and if climate change does bring about significant changes in rainfall peaks.
This will be most efficiently achieved through rewilding of upland catchments and key flood plains using a model based on the best knowledge of both fluvial geomorphology and economics to determine where best to designate land for absorbing peak rainfall and allowing flood storage, especially before water reaches towns and cities in high risk areas.
Economics will tell us where land is poorly used but we need fiscal economic mechanisms to make this process efficient. This will be best achieved through fiscal measures such as the removal of agricultural subsidies for poor quality farmland and the tax shift to land value taxes which is proposed by leading economists.
Also to efficiently allow such a compensation and mitigation systems to work a 'Land Value Tax' should replace business rates and other taxes' this means economically important areas will increase in value, thanks to flood prevention and mitigation, allowing an increased tax take which can then fund mitigation work while at the same time reducing the taxes on poor quality land that is used for flood stores or is better able to absorb rainfall.
Land Value taxes and other pigovian taxes such as a fee charged on all water abstraction (so called tax and dividend systems) will allow an economically efficient & fair system to allow access to water cheaply for all but make water use efficient by internalising costs in overuse, farming, goods and services of its limited supply. Such a system would also fund the work of the Environment Agency without the need of over-stressing the taxpayer!
Land Value & pigovian tax shifts (e.g. taxes on CO2 commissions) will limit and mitigate climate change in themselves as they will put costs on CO2 emissions & allow wild land restoration & other extensive land use systems to sequester carbon back into soils. Removal of subsidies so land below the margin of production comes out of wasteful economic use to form rewilded catchments and restored flood plains can massively increase the lands ability to sequester carbon. My work indicates this could equal the total CO2 emissions of the UK.
All helped by the reintroduction of natures own flood plain manager the beaver!