The permanent solution to UK flood risk, which will increase productivity for the farmers whilst restoring the environment

Climate change? Perhaps it is to blame, perhaps there are other factors, but one is certain: two years in a row now, the UK has seen dramatic flooding across the country – from Somerset to Yorkshire.

The solutions have been proposed in recent articles in the Guardian and the Independent – put more trees in the uplands, and slow down the runoff. This solution is great, and it pleases environmentalists, and hopefully the people downstream who would stay dry, but what about the farmers? They currently rely on money from the UK government and the EU to be profitable, and the rules are simple: if you want more help, grow more grass for your sheep, and less trees.

As you can see this creates a conflict of interests – putting more pressure on the already struggling farming community. There is a solution though, and it has been tried and tested for quite a while now, with results matching and surpassing those of the current business as usual. We can have the trees, we can have the sheep, and the farmers can have more money for their hard work, whilst helping us downstream keep our shirts dry.

Although economists love single product solutions, and division of labour, etc, this is not how nature works. It evolved a complex set of relations that include plant, animal, geology, and atmospheric phenomenon. The farmers can use this to their advantage and still be in the black  financially.

Here is what a new kind of farm looks like, that utilises lessons from ecosystems. It has a greater calorie production than a monocrop system (like corn only, or grazing animals only). It is run by Mark Shepard of Forest Agriculture Enterprises:


The system on this particular farm combines the production of hazel, chestnut, apples, and some other fruit, in addition to poultry, pigs, sheep, and cattle. They have no external inputs: the fertility for the plant crops comes from manures deposited by the animals, and the animal feed is greatly provided for by the plants. Water for the plants is gathered through a clever system of ditches, and miniature ponds, which slows down any rain water, and allows time for the trees to infiltrate it into the soil. There are annual plantings too including sweet peppers, in rows between the trees. The meat fetches a high price because it is organic and free range.

It’s really a win-win situation for everyone, economically, and environmentally.

Speaking of the environment. The people who support wildlife habitat restoration will be happy to note, that Mark’s farm frequently hosts up to 125 SPECIES of wild birds that migrate via his farm. This is without spending money on artificial upkeep of a specific wildlife habitat that any a particular environmental EU resolution would have us do. Imagine a world in which people’s needs are reunited with those of nature!

If you want to learn more, look up terms like restorative agriculture, agroforestry, silvopasture, intercropping, and above all – permaculture.

I’m an optimist, and having seen that the solutions are there, I would encourage the farming community to get in touch with the UK Permaculture Association, that can provide guidance in the transition. We can have the sheep, and dry towns too 🙂

I’m a designer of low management, self-sustaining food production systems. I’ve been trained by Geoff Lawton of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia, which this year has been recognised as a Civil Service Organisation by a prominent United Nations body for its efforts in combating desertification. Water in the deserts comes all in one go, and creates flash flood events which devastate local human economy, and natural ecosystems. What we’re seeing in the UK now, is a taste of what people in those areas have to put up with yearly. Permaculture provides solutions to tackle these issues on the ground, permanently. Get in touch if you want to find out more. Send me a tweet @DanielTyrkiel

2 thoughts on “The permanent solution to UK flood risk, which will increase productivity for the farmers whilst restoring the environment

  1. Yes, although the tree crops would need to be different. In the yorkshire uplands it’s far too cold for chestnuts, and also for most apples. Some hardy apples and plums might work some years.

  2. Thank you Leanna. What would need to happen is that locally people would need to make assessments of what species can become a viable crop. This is exactly what Mark Shepard did. This is why I point to Permaculture Association as a contact. Another great UK based expert is Martin Crawford from the Agroforestry Research Trust:

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