Storm Isha brings increased flooding and raises risk of disease on farms in Surrey

Storm Isha is predicted to bring 80mph winds and up to four inches of rain in some regions. This is leading to regular flood warnings across the UK. This is especially worrying for UK farmers.
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Flood water and disease

For many farmers, the flood waters themselves are only part of the problem. Flooding across farmland can kill livestock, so what’s in the water.

Poultry owners in particular should be concerned about flooding not just because of the water rise itself but because the floods bring with them the increased threat of disease. International studies have shown an increased risk of Salmonella in livestock after flooding events, and as standing water is one of the biggest reservoirs for disease it is easy to see how, with a flooded water table and overworked drainage, domestic poultry will have ample opportunity to drink from contaminated water.

Farmers are concerned over the increased risk of flooding. Picture: submittedFarmers are concerned over the increased risk of flooding. Picture: submitted
Farmers are concerned over the increased risk of flooding. Picture: submitted
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Egg and poultry farmers have further concerns about how increased flood waters provide new habitats for the mingling of wild and domestic birds, often acting as vectors for the deadly strains of avian influenza. Last year 2022-2023 was the worst outbreak of avian influenza with costs to industry into the hundreds of millions of pounds, with many millions of birds killed or culled as a result of the disease’s onslaught.

Whilst this season seems, mercifully, less intense than last, there is still caution around the disease and a determination to do anything possible to prevent it entering the nation’s farms. The seemingly never-ending stream of flood water is not calming farmers’ nerves.

Planning for biosecurity

Julian Sparrey, Livetec’s Technical Director, said that in preparing for heavy rainfall: “Any pool of water has the potential to carry viruses. Building maintenance is paramount. It's crucial to ensure that your structure is truly watertight, particularly in the vicinity of roof fans, as water infiltration can occur there, and ensuring that water cannot gain access through the walls and under cracks in doors.

One way to check your vulnerabilities to flooding is looking at areas where water pools, looking for moss on concrete and on the sides of sheds and ensuring you have measures in place to prevent flooding in these areas.”

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Biosecurity processes must also be followed too, according to Sparrey: “It is also critical to ensure that anyone entering sheds changes wet boots before entering a shed to prevent the introduction of rainwater. Taking extra biosecurity measures where there is a risk of flooding will be critical to preventing disease ingress through water."

Industry demands strong governmental response

Whilst insurers are still trying to establish the full cost to homes and businesses of these events, the cost to the nation’s already hard-pressed farms is sure to run into the many millions.

In response, the National Farmers Union (NFU) Deputy President, Tom Bradshaw said of the flooding that: “Farming is on the front line of climate change and the sector is experiencing volatility and severe weather events more often. It’s why we absolutely need a long-term plan to improve how we manage water in times of flood and drought, as we regularly experience both on an annual basis, and both severely impact our ability to produce food.”

The NFU is currently demanding that the government strengthens its commitment to UK food security with firm action on water management. And fears of how this impacts farmers are shared across many industry groups, including the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), as they echo the NFU’s concerns.

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Regional Director of the CLA, Tim Bamford said: “Flooding can have a massive impact on farming and the countryside, with crops damaged and rural communities often cut off.

“Farmers want to provide solutions to the climate crisis. But until the Government steps in to tackle planning delays and offer full and proper compensation to those storing floodwater, farmers will continue paying the price for problems they didn’t create.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) stated: "We’re conscious of the impact Storm Isha will have on the farming community, and the important role to play in reducing the risk of flooding and coastal erosion as we adapt to climate change."

Vigilance and preparedness

Farmers across the UK need to remain alert to the threat of flooding. They must also be aware of the diseases that can be carried onto their land in the flood water as it can have a devastating impact, long after the floods have receded. Being prepared is the best way to protect the future.

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