2013 02 partnership working from a grass roots perspective - rose hewlett


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The Severn Estuary Forum is a key annual event in its eighth year and hosted by the Severn Estuary Partnership: an independent, estuary-wide initiative, involving all those interested in the management of the estuary, from planners to port authorities, fishermen to farmers.

This year’s Forum was opened by the Lord Mayor of Gloucester and supported by CIWEM. It focussed on a number of diverse topics, including the upper estuary; renewable energy possibilities; a review of the Severn Estuary Flood Risk Management Strategy; an overview of the operations and maintenance of the Severn River Crossings; Local Enterprise Partnerships; The Bristol Deep Sea Container Terminal; proposals for a Severnside Airport and Fisheries amongst others.

These engaging and exciting events are intended for all interested in learning about the latest research and policy developments dealing with the Severn Estuary and its future, and always guarantee a lively and informative day of presentations and talks. They offer a unique opportunity to learn from others, share ideas and participate in the management of the Severn Estuary.

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2013 02 partnership working from a grass roots perspective - rose hewlett

  1. 1. Partnership working from a grass roots perspective No one has time any more. Life is filled with PowerPoint displays andelectronic consultations with electronic submissions. The instant nature of emails and texts has introduced us to a world of both better and worse communication. We appear to be losing the urge and ability to communicate in person and to see for ourselves. For this reason, I deliberately decided to address you in the old fashioned way, without any props. I am a farm and estate secretary and local historian. My ancestors have lived along both sides of the upper Severn estuary, probably back as far as the 13th century and maybe before that. They fished and worked the river, and helped maintain the flood defences built to protect valuable farmland. My employers, the Clifford family of Frampton on Severn, have been doing the same for almost a millennium. Some of the oldest surviving datable Roman flood defences in the country can be seen just south of Gloucester at Longney. During that time men, women and children observed the river at close quarters, pitted their wits against it, and relied on their intimate knowledge to survive. The passage of their knowledge to each successive generation ensured a continuity of understanding that extended well into the twentieth century. Indeed, when the Severn River Board started to take over responsibility for the maintenance of flood defences in the 1930s the benefits of two millennia of 'grass roots' knowledge was fully recognised and, thanks largely to the efforts of its District Engineer, Fred Rowbotham, landowners, farmers and fishermen remained fully involved in the river's management, their input being actively sought and greatly appreciated. Fred was the ultimate liaison officer. He lived, breathed and worked the river all his life. He listened, understood and enabled partnership working. Due to the make-up of its members, the Lower Severn Internal Drainage Board is probably the only organisation to maintain the type of close relationship with landowners and farmers so championed by Fred, and this ethos continues to show in its successful management of land drainage in the Severn Vale. However, after Fred retired in 1974, management of the upper Severn estuary was never quite the same. By the time the Shoreline Management Plan Review was undertaken 35 years later, communication with those at grass roots level had all but disappeared. Landowners, farmers and parish councils along the 53 miles of Gloucestershire coastline - from Lydney to Gloucester and back down to Sharpness - were not consulted, even though Defra's protocol suggested that they should have been. As a consequence, the grass roots knowledge which should have been fed into this strategic document was missing, and those compiling the Shoreline Management Plan Review were not in full possession of the facts.In parallel, the 1
  2. 2. Environment Agency produced itsoriginal Flood Risk Management Strategy the absolute antithesis of partnership working. To make matters worse, employees from both government and non-government organisations that should have questioned the efficacy of both documents were either too busy or too ill-informed to look seriously at them and they merely rubber-stamped their contents. Eventually, when those at grass roots level were finally given the opportunity to comment, it was parish councillors and parishioners who realised how flawed the strategies were. Severn Voice, representing the east bank parishes between Slimbridge and Elmore, took their concerns to the Minister, Richard Benyon, who consigned the Environment Agency's Flood Risk Management Strategy to the dustbin because there had been no engagement at grass roots level. I think Fred Rowbotham would have been proud of Severn Voice's efforts, but he would also have been extremely dismayed at how out of touch almost all other organisations had become. They say that 'every cloud has a silver lining' and the Environment Agency regrouped and their team worked with Severn Voice to devise a protocol of engagement with those at grass roots level. The new Flood Risk Management Strategy has been a joint effort; a lot has been learned by all parties and one would like to think that the relationships forged during its development will be maintained. However, that whole process has revealed many flaws in the system of gathering knowledge. At the beginning of 2013Advance the Line, a group of local people with relevant professional expertise, published its report, Gauging the tide, which served as a critical review of the methods used to assess and manage flood risk in the upper Severn estuary. Unlike the rest of the estuary, the coastline from Lydney/Sharpness to Gloucester is not currently included in the Southwest Strategic Regional Coastal Monitoring Programme leaving one to question exactly why those compiling the Shoreline Management Plan Review did not recommend redressing this oversight which left them woefully short of data on which to base their Review. At the request of Advance the Line the Environment Agency sent a coastal adviser to Frampton and as we looked across the wide, open expanse of the estuary to Awre anddiscussed the effects of the weather, tides and manmade features he understood exactly why we had brought him there. He has now recommended that the coastline from Sharpness/Lydney to Gloucester is included in the coastal monitoring programme. Furthermore, at the instigation of Advance the Line discussions are in progress with Cardiff University's School of Earth and Ocean Sciences to see whether a long-term study can be undertaken in the upper estuary to aid understanding of the reasons for the movement of the main channel and the effects this has on erosion and accretion. 2
  3. 3. As my research withAdvance the Line has proved, looking at the history of the area together with the effects of current events is a very necessary part of the learning process and we are willing to share our grass roots knowledge with Cardiff University and others. Advance the Line found that data from the four tide gauges at Sharpness, Epney, Minsterworth and Gloucester was not currently interrogated, so the effects of climate change on both fluvial and tidal flow is not being measured. This stretch of the estuary, particularly from Gloucester to Arlingham/Newnham on Severn is heavily affected by fluvial flow and it is predicted that increased storminess will raise river levels in the coming decades. It is important to have baseline data from which to determine what is actually happening so that flood defences can be maintained at effective levels. It will also help inform on the effects of any future proposals for renewable energy in the estuary such as a barrage. Now I am pleased to say that all of these recommendations are being acted upon by the Environment Agency - but I must express my amazement that it took a group working at grass roots level to point out the glaringly obvious - you cannot produce meaningful strategies without basic facts and figures. Advance the Linevoluntarily undertakes regular monitoring along a stretch of coastline at Frampton on Severn that is undergoing severe erosion which, if it continues at the present rate will mean that in less than ten years the tides will regularly reach the canal embankment which acts as our tidal flood defence. Martin Quaile has just mentioned the possibility of a third Severn crossing between Sharpness and Lydney. That would be great news for us in Frampton because our land would start accreting again, just as it did during the lifetime of the Severn railway bridge which crossed at that point. The Environment Agency say they are grateful for our work (having previously been unaware that a potential problem existed) and for almost 12 months they have promised to meet and discuss our protocol so that this can be carried out as scientifically as possible. Our next scheduled annual monitoring is during the first week of November but the Environment Agency do not have the funds to provide us with a measuring wheel. How sad. We are giving up our own time, are willing to share our local specialist knowledge and we have to rely on our surveyor's tape which blows in the wind and potentially reduces the accuracy of our readings. We have not asked for much. So, may I put out a plea that if anyone here today has a spare measuring wheel please could they get in contact with me over lunch. This stretch of warthland at Frampton has been in managed realignment for 20 years having been managed under various stewardship schemes which have allowed the greater ingress and retention of tidal water since the abandonment 3
  4. 4. of the old sea defences in favour of newly designated flood defences further inland. From a grass roots perspective Frampton Court Estate feels that a lot can be learned through regular monitoring and study and that the knowledge gained would prove useful when other managed realignment schemes are considered elsewhere in the dynamic environment of the upper estuary. Indeed, we work closely onsite with Natural England to share our knowledge and understanding. Across the country, the normal period for such monitoring is only up to five years; a miserably short time which surely fails to provide sufficiently meaningful data. More frustrating though is the fact that the Environment Agency disagree with Natural England and do not believe the area is in managed realignment at all! During the Christmas break Martin Quaile and I and a few others at grass roots level met with Gloucestershire Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group to work up a bid for Defra's Flood Resilience Community Pathfinder scheme. We set out to build up a better understanding of tide-locking, a very important issue in the upper estuary where water from the land drainage systems is prevented from discharging into the Severn whilst the tide is in and the tide flaps are shut. It is a problem that will increase with climate change and needs to be understood should another tidal energy scheme be proposed. We at grass roots level gave up our spare time (evenings, weekends etc) to meet the almost impossibly short deadlines given by Defra, as we were passionate about making our communities more flood resilient. In the 12 parishes bordering the upper estuary, drainage ditches and their governance would have been recorded which would have a led to a more co-ordinated approach to their maintenance. In addition, interrogation of the tide gauge data would have given a better understanding of river levels. The Integrated Local Delivery approach we would have used is proven to create a better ownership of the difficulties faced by communities as they work in partnership with government and non-government organisations. Both the Environment Agency and Gloucestershire County Council supported our bid, but unfortunately neither could give sufficient time to ensure its success, and meetings with their staff were very difficult to arrange in the timescales we were given. Our bid, which had to be submitted via the County Council, was short-listed, but ultimately unsuccessful, and what really hurt us was that Defra only awarded 80% of the money available under the scheme; the remaining £1million stayed in its coffers. Apparently, somewhat unusually, we, the community, had put together a scheme; those schemesthat were awarded funds appeared to have all been council-led and then linked into community working. Today all organisations face increasing pressures on their budgets and what particularly concerns the parishes along the upper Severn estuary is the extent of funding available for the maintenance of flood defences. On the west bank, Awre Riverside Landowners have been working in partnership with the Environment Agency to keep their flood defences in working order on a 'make 4
  5. 5. do and mend' basis. Many more communities will face similar decisions in the coming years. Gloucestershire NFU Severn Estuary Stakeholders (NFUSES) was set up in 2011 to promote just such partnership working. Its members comprise both government and non-government organisations, and most importantly, those at grass roots level. NFUSES addresses many subjects concerning the upper estuary, but our prime concern is the maintenance of flood defences. The Environment Agency has an almost impossible job to juggle diminishing budgets that are not allocated until two months into the current tax year. Members of NFUSES are currently working in partnership to establish the best way to satisfactorily progress this most difficult issue. From our meetings it is apparent that the Environment Agencyreally values the different perspectives and knowledge that members bring. I'll finish with a word about traditional salmon fishing methods which are currently under threat in the upper Severn estuary.I'm sure the next speaker will make mention of this. From a grass roots perspective it has been disappointing to see the Environment Agency yet again failing to engage properly over a consultation and those affected havingto arrange a meeting with Richard Benyonin an attempt to sort out the problem. I spoke at that meeting on behalf of the salmon fishery owners, none of which had been consulted at any time about the likelihood that some of their fisheries would become permanently unfishable due to reductions in catch and the number of licences issued to lave netsmen. Options to manage salmon catch in the lave and draft net fisheries of the Severn Estuary proved to be the epitome of modern-day thinking and working practice with its electronic consultation documents, electronic submissions and poor outreach to some of those most affected. One of the most exasperating aspects was the methodology used to assess people's 'willingness to pay' for maintaining the traditional fishing methods. Not only were the majority of those interviewed living in such unconnected places as Birmingham, Reading and Slough, not one person along the estuary from Awre to Rodley, or Slimbridge to Gloucester was interviewed. One is also left to wonder why the focus was on willingness to pay. Goodness knows how much the study cost. All I can say is that the money would have been better spent talking to the fishery owners, local fishermen and those living within the communities most affected. Richard Benyon remarked to me that he was amazed to find such a lack of partnership working and communication within the Severn estuary when the Shoreline Management Plan Review and original Flood Risk Management Strategy were being prepared. We always like to think that the Severn estuary is unique. It is, but in this instance for the wrong reasons. Elsewhere in the country the thinking is, apparently, much more joined-up. 5
  6. 6. So, my message to all of you who work for the organisations that have input into the management of the upper estuary and the Severnside parishes is this: when you are at the initial stages of planning any works, compiling a strategy or considering a withdrawal from flood defence maintenance please spend time remembering how much more informed your decisions will be if you utilise the wealth of knowledge that grows at grass roots level. Rose Hewlett Severn Estuary Partnership Forum - 17th October 2013 6