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University of Lincoln academic warns of challenges facing south Lincolnshire area due to climate change

An academic warned it is time to reconsider the way we use our land – and stop building on flood plains – as we face up to climate change, extreme weather and the threat of floods to south Lincolnshire.

The deluge of rain which had been inflicted on the area by Storm Henk had resulted in two rivers bursting their banks along with homes and roads being flooded by rising water levels earlier this month.

But Dr Mark Schuerch, an associate professor of physical geography at the University of Lincoln, has warned that the fenland at the bottom of the county – including South Holland – is going to be the most at risk of ‘significant consequences’ of our changing weather patterns.

Dr. Mark Schuerch, Associate Professor of Physical Geography at the University of Lincoln
Dr. Mark Schuerch, Associate Professor of Physical Geography at the University of Lincoln

Droughts, rising sea levels and receding underground acquifers allowing salt water to seep into the area’s rich farmlands – fertile fields which produce vast amounts of the nation’s food – are issues scientists and the agricultural industry need to find solutions for.

He has advised looking at how we use the land and restoring natural features, such as wetlands, to help the area – and our homes – cope with the changes.

Dr Schuerch said: “It is time to think seriously in Lincolnshire because probably the south of the county of Lincolnshire and Fenland are probably one of the areas in the country that are most at risk of significant consequences.

Images of the Bourne Eau which has burst its banks. PHOTO: OLLIE THORLEY
Images of the Bourne Eau which has burst its banks. PHOTO: OLLIE THORLEY

“We are going to see more flood events. This is ground water flooding and river flooding which is likely to increase as a consequence of climate change with changing precipitation patterns. The general trend is of increased frequency of flooding events.

“For fenland, particularly the Lincolnshire fenland, the increased sea level rises is exacerbating that problem and that is going to be more difficult to get rid of water.

“Houses built on flood plains are going to be flooded more often. People are starting to realise that climate change is changing the frequency of these events. Current projections say particularly after 2040/2050 is when these trends are likely to accelerate.

The breach in the bank of Cowbit and Crowland wash PHOTO: HADEN BRITTAIN
The breach in the bank of Cowbit and Crowland wash PHOTO: HADEN BRITTAIN

“Climate change cannot be reversed but it can be mitigated particularly for Lincolnshire and fenland.”

Internal drainage boards have been feeling the impact of heavy rain brought by Storm Babet and then Storm Henk in recent months which has resulted in more water for them to pump away to ensure the areas around Spalding do not flood.

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At the start of January, the River Welland burst its banks at the Cowbit and Crowland Washes while the Bourne Eau breached near Tongue End. Heavy flooding had devastated the Baston and Greatford areas too.

Dr Schuerch said that the area needs to adapt to the challenges ahead by providing more space for rivers and the sea.

He said: “The best solution is to restore the natural characteristics of our rivers and coastline and some of the other lands that used to be in this area, particularly on Fenland. There was vast and expansive wet land which can mitigate some of the effects of climate change. It will mean that some of the area currently at risk may not necessarily in the future be difficult to inhabit.

“Lincolnshire is very low lying and the problem we have in the southern Lincolnshire is that we have is a lot of water that we have to pump out of the low lying areas into the sea.”

He said that the future for places like Spalding and south Lincolnshire will be a ‘planning challenge’ and recommended not building homes on a flood plain.

Dr Schuerch said: “One of the key areas for the future research will be to ensure that we find solutions for people to stay where they are and we may have to change the use of our land quite dramatically in order to be able to continue to live there.”

The University of Lincoln is working with Lincolnshire County Council are working together on a project to better understand that groundswater system in the fens and the encroachment by seawater.

Over the next few years, they will be monitoring the levels of underwater acquifers in South Holland and also the seeping of saltwater – along with working out the cost of producing our food before the research is presented to the Government.

Dr Schuerch said that salinisation in Lincolnshire – which produces 30% of the nation’s vegetables – is going to be an important issue in the future.

He said: “We have to think about how we use agricultural land

“There is a lot of controversy around this topic as we have wildlife organisations and charities that are keen to restore wetlands to a fully natural environment and that is very much contrary to what landowners what to do with their land.

“As scientists we have a task of finding solutions to where we can restore some natural habitats but we able to keep using the land and keep farming the land.”

He said that the university’s agricultural department is starting work on this but that landowners may also need to adapt to changing conditions with different crops and allowing land to flood.

He said: “We are trying to work with farmers to develop these solutions. People have to take it seriously and adapt to changes that they are observing - it is not a thing that is going to be reversed very shortly or easily.

There is the risk of increased drought conditions on farms. We need to think of how we manage the fresh water more generally to be able to have enough fresh water all year around.

“The most important thing to make people aware and to ensure they start to think about how to adopt to the change we will be seeing and take it seriously. There are solutions and there will be solutions provided that climate change is being mitigated as much as we can. Take it seriously and start to think about people to adopt.”

Should we change the way we use our land? Is it time to stop building on a flood plain? Post a comment below.

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