Lib Dem MSP Willie Rennie calls for advice, support and new measures to help farmers deal with flooding.

Flooding has taken a heavy toll on people across Scotland in recent months, and especially on farming communities. Persistent rain has devastated crops and is taking an increasing financial and mental toll. I have seen this in my own constituency of North East Fife where people have been flooded out of their homes and businesses, particularly after Storm Gerrit just after Christmas. I am determined to find a way forward to manage the increased rainfall brought by climate change, and to prevent flooding as far as possible.

We have had talk about flood studies, management plans, strategies, capital programmes, planning enforcement, gully examination, attenuation schemes and sustainable drainage system schemes. But talk won’t stop the water and I am not convinced that the Scottish Government are doing enough.

The Scottish Farmer: Lib Dem MSP Willie Rennie is calling for new measures to deal with floodingLib Dem MSP Willie Rennie is calling for new measures to deal with flooding

I want to see direct support and clear advice for farmers and landowners along catchments, including the Eden catchment in North East Fife, to slow down the water’s speed of flow upstream and get it away quickly when it gets close to homes and businesses. Despite all the good evidence about managing catchments, there is no plan and no money, and there is confusing advice and a costly application process if landowners want to do anything.

Landowners are told by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency that removing silt from the river does not really work, but SEPA then says that there is no ban and permission can be granted. It is confusing. There is now a view among farmers and landowners that they would be wasting their time if they applied for permission.

What we now need is a public body, in partnership with locals, to identify the bottlenecks and the opportunities on rivers and their tributaries, and to secure the necessary permissions so that the farmers can get the work done on their land. That action should be based on the best advice and evidence. We need a comprehensive approach, because there is little point in one farmer getting work done in isolation. The whole river system, from bottom to top, needs to be considered.

Upstream, we need the same urgent proactive assessment of the potential for fields, burns and land to slow down the flow of the water and reduce the loss of valuable topsoil in some locations. The advice needs to be clear. Do trees make a difference? Are buffer strips wide enough? Does organic matter in the soil help? Do swales and reservoirs help? Should certain sections of land be grass only? Which sections should be given up for flood plains? Where could flood storage ponds be located?

The Tweed Forum’s partnership in the Eddleston Water project demonstrates what can be achieved. However, the advice to farmers elsewhere is confusing and conflicting, and there is no grant scheme other than for droughts and river bank restoration.

If ministers are honest, they will admit that nothing is getting done in most of the country, so it is all just talk. I am not proposing more large and costly flood prevention schemes, although the Scottish Government is off track on delivering those schemes. They have their place, but I know that money is tight, and they take years to implement. Instead, I am asking for smaller, faster and relatively inexpensive measures combined with a long-term plan to better manage the watercourses and prevent floods if at all possible.

Since the flooding in North East Fife earlier this year I have been working with farmers and land managers. There are encouraging signs of progress, including the establishment of a group to manage the river Eden east of Cupar. But ministers need to face up to their responsibilities and fix the gaps in support and funding.