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Farmers and conservationists row over flood defences

Lyth Valley was one of Lonely Planet's top 100 views in the world. Credit: ITV Border

Pumps to defend farms in the Lyth Valley against flooding will be turned off in 6 months if the community can't find a way to run them themselves.

The Environment Agency says it can't maintain the pumps anymore, but the plans are controversial.

Conservationists argue the area has lost its wildlife since the draining began.

The Lyth Valley in south Cumbria. Credit: ITV Border

Two years ago the Lonely Planet made the Lyth Valley one of it's top 100 views in the world. The landscape has been shaped by farming and is famed for its damsons.

But those views look like they do because of four drains in the valley, which stop the lowland from Whitbarrow Scar to Scout Scar from flooding.

Those pumps are maintained by the Environment Agency but it says it needs to protect people and homes rather than spending money defending fields.

The pumps will be turned off if the local community can't run them.

We invest funding where the risk of flooding is highest and it will benefit the most people and property.

We will continue to work closely with the local community, conservation organisations, local authorities and the NFU to develop alternatives for land drainage in these areas.”

– Andy Brown, Environment Agency Flood Risk Manager
Whitbarrow Scar Credit: ITV Border

Farmers in the area are trying to work together on a proposal to create an independent drainage board so they can run the pumps.

It would be paid for with a levy on council tax for residents in the local area. 70% of this would come from farmers, while the remaining 30% would come from the other houses in the flood risk zone.

There are around 100 such schemes in the country, but this would be the first new one for 30 years.

If it's drained and well-maintained and well managed it's wonderfully productive land but it's a fine line between that and when it gets wet, it goes over the edge and it becomes a swamp and it won't happen overnight but it'll be a gradual process."

– JIM BLAND, Lyth Valley Farmer
JIM BLAND, Lyth Valley Farmer Credit: ITV Border

But their efforts are not supported by conservationists. The RSPB says the valley should return to wetland so wading birds come back.

The RSPB is committed finding a solution to the Lyth Valley drainage issue. Our aim is to work towards a win-win scenario where wildlife is able to thrive once more within a farmed landscape.

Turning off four out of the five drainage pumps in the Lyth Valley, as originally proposed by the Environment Agency, would not increase the flood risk to a single home and still enable farming to play a critical role in the future of the valley."

– RSPB Spokesperson

Some local residents are angry that it would be paid for by a levy on their council tax.

They have until next summer before the pumps are turned off.