Plea to EA over silt in River Steeping near Wainfleet

Reeds growing in the River Steeping. ANL-160920-105244001
Reeds growing in the River Steeping. ANL-160920-105244001

Badgers may have hit the headlines regarding the risk of flooding in Wainfleet, but underlying fears are growing about the impact on hundreds of homes and farmland should the banks of the River Steeping ever burst.

As the Environment Agency (EA) defends its work to clear badger setts from the banks following calls by a county councillor for a cull, the Lindsey Marsh Drainage Board (LMDB) is appealing to the authority to work with them and get the badly silted river dredged.

The drainage board’s frustration has been revealed following an article outlining Coun Chris Pain’s FOI request on the cost of moving badgers along the River Steeping – £313,000 – in which he multiplies it by 12 to work out the cost of setts across the area.

In response, the EA said that the extrapolated cost quoted at £3.5m for fixing the badger setts would be ‘inaccurate’, saying the £313,000 figure for one sett includes not only the cost of construction of the artificial sett but also accounts for strengthening it and protective meshing of adjacent banks to minimise the risk of further badger activity there – something not needed in each case.

Hoping to complete work by the end of this year, weather permitting, an EA spokesman said: “Our priority is to reduce flood risk to people and homes, and we continue to survey and monitor the condition of our flood defences, including the impact from badgers.”

However, LMDB chief executive Andrew McGill said he was disappointed the focus had been on the badgers.

In a special interview with The Standard, he said: “Residents in Wainfleet are more at risk of flooding should the banks of the River Steeping burst rather than the amount of silt in it. However, under our water level management objectives we rely on the River Steeping being clear and work is not being done on the main arterial water courses that feed into the drainage system.

“We understand the EA works within a national strategy based on population and there is only so much money to go round. But flooding fields would not be the answer – in this district to travel to Mablethorpe you would have to pass through those fields.”

Dredging work along the River Steeping was due to take place last year, with the EA clearing the banks in preparation.

Mr McGill said: “The EA came back and said it was not necessary along the whole of the river and the work ceased. But it’s not enough to dredge part of it because it will fill up with silt again from further up the river.

“We understand the EA has to work within a national strategy regarding population and other areas may take priority over Wainfleet. But our £3.5 million budget is raised from local people and farmers and we are ready to work with the EA to get the job done properly.”

Since the meeting, Coun Wendy Burkett – district and town councillor for Wainfleet – said she and the town council and surrounding parishes have been talking with the EA since February.

She said: “This week I have arranged a meeting with Lindsey Marsh Drainage to come and look at the River Steeping who will give their knowledgeable advice on how the river can be maintained properly.

“I am also concerned about the build-up of silt and reeds which could make it very difficult for someone to get out of the water if they were to fall in potentially resulting in loss of life.

“This will give us some hard evidence when the Environment Agency meet with the town council again at the end of October.”

Coun Chris Pain said homeowners had already lost value in their homes and were paying high insurance premiums because of the fears regarding flooding. He said: “It is vital the EA listens to the drainage board so the River Steeping can handle the flow of water at times it is under pressure.”

In March, when the issue of silt in the Steeping was in the spotlight, EA area manager Mike Dugher said: “Our modelling shows that current silt levels have not significantly increased flood risk and therefore de-silting alone would not sufficiently reduce flood risk to justify the cost according to current funding rules.

“However, in parallel to our catchment-wide investigations, we’re looking at options to strengthen the southern bank of the Wainfleet relief channel to reduce flood risk and improve access for maintenance.

“As with all our flood defences, we continue to monitor the banks, carry out routine maintenance and precautionary works during times of high flow to help reduce flood risk to the local community.”