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Urgent call to protect Romney Marsh...or face flood disaster

PUBLISHED: 15:00 09 February 2014

Water gathers in tram lines in fields of planted crops across the Romney Marsh, 29th January 2014.

Water gathers in tram lines in fields of planted crops across the Romney Marsh, 29th January 2014.

Ady Kerry / AK Pictures

Marsh could suffer like the Somerset Levels due to problems with its drainage channels

Water gathers in tram lines in fields of planted crops across the Romney Marsh, 29th January 2014.Water gathers in tram lines in fields of planted crops across the Romney Marsh, 29th January 2014.

Stretching serenely along the southern corner of Kent, the sparsely populated and remote wetlands of Romney Marsh are a reminder of the stunning diversity of the county.

Away from the urban sprawl of some of the bigger towns, or the busier coastal communities, it sits peacefully between the coastline and hills, stretching over 100 square miles between the Cinque Ports of Rye to the west and Hythe in the east.

The historic landscape, which is made up of reclaimed land, is as rich in history as it is wildlife, boasting a collection of medieval churches as well as nature and bird reserves.

It is also one of the most fertile farming areas in Kent.

New Romney and Lydd, as well as the unusual coastal area of Dungeness at the southern tip, are among its towns.

But while its open space and flat, low-lying beauty is a draw for many, it is exactly this which creates its biggest threat.

With prolonged heavy rain almost a daily fixture, its network of drainage channels – crucial in protecting the Marsh – are unable to cope.

Environmental group CPRE Protect Kent and local farmers fear it could lead to the same severe problem seen in the Somerset Levels, which are currently submerged with flood water with families evacuated from their homes.

CPRE Protect Kent and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) say the unique landscape of Romney Marsh has existed for more than 900 years due to the sophisticated network of drainage channels.

But they stressed that decisions in recent decades by government agencies has reduced the ability of the channels to perform the drainage function as effectively as in the past.

They argue that maintenance work for drainage has taken such a low priority, emergency planning now needs to be implemented.

Farmers on the Marsh and Protect Kent are calling for a balanced and planned programme of investment in both capital and maintenance to protect the landscape for present and future generations.

“Romney Marsh is a man-made area and requires regular maintenance,” said Dr Hilary Newport, CPRE Protect Kent’s director.

“Whilst there has been welcome capital investment in flood prevention by the Environment Agency, this must be balanced with day-to -day maintenance.

“Without this regular maintenance there is a real threat of the marshes becoming Kent’s own Somerset Levels.”

While a beauty spot and wildlife enthusiast’s haven, Romney Marsh is also needed for its agricultural production.

Protect Kent said it is one of the largest and most fertile farming areas in the county and local food production remains an important economic and sustainability objective.

Dr Newport added: “We are calling for the Environment Agency to ensure there is a rolling maintenance programme so that the marshes can remain a productive agricultural landscape and a rich wildlife resource.”

Farmers have also got involved in the campaign, throwing their weight behind calls for better maintenance of the drainage network.

Philip Cornish, local group secretary of the NFU, said: “We welcome CPRE speaking up for the uniquely varied farming landscape of Romney Marsh, at this time, when flooding is an anxiety for everyone.”

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