I pottered up to parliament yesterday to listen to the All Party Parliamentary Group meeting on natural flood defences, and very interesting it was too. I was there to listen to, among others, Jeremy Biggs of the Freshwater Habitats Trust
, an excellent charity which we support. I'm the bald suit in the photo.
I've been to several parliamentary group and committee hearings and don't understand why more folk don't bother to (including, in this instance, any MPs from Somerset!). It's a great opportunity to hear experts and meet interesting people, not least politicians, who, unfashionably, I generally find impressive. It also gives you a sense of the difficulty of establishing and implementing joined up policy in the environment.*
Natural flood defences, it turns out, are unsurprisingly complicated. It's not just a question of paying hill farmers to plant trees in catchment areas.
There were three themes running through yesterday's presentations and debate which were familiar from other environmental issues. Most obviously, there is no money available to action any new initiative, which will somehow have to be paid by the private sector. Secondly, there is limited available data to promote new schemes or help design them. Thirdly, policy has to be not just well informed but co-ordinated. I'm not convinced these things won't happen in this instance, and the gains for biodiversity and the voters could be immense.
*This is one of the reasons I don't subscribe to organizations like Avaaz and Change.org, which reduce issues to 140 characters and spew out tens of thousands of emails into MPs' inboxes. Ironically, they increase a sense of alienation from the process of government which Americans are currently paying a heavy price for.