George Monbiot Drowning in Money
Vast amounts of public money, running into billions, are spent every year on policies that make devastating floods inevitable. … To listen to the dismal debates of the past fortnight, you could be forgiven for believing that rivers arise in the plains; that there is no such thing as upstream; that mountains, hills, catchments and watersheds are irrelevant to the question of whether or not homes and infrastructure get drowned.
A group of visionary farmers at Pontbren… realised that the usual hill-farming strategy – loading the land with more and bigger sheep, grubbing up the trees and hedges, digging more drains – wasn’t working. It made no economic sense, the animals had nowhere to shelter, and the farmers were breaking their backs to wreck their own land.
There is an unbreakable rule laid down by the common agricultural policy. If you want to receive your single farm payment – by far the biggest component of farm subsidies – that land has to be free from what it calls “unwanted vegetation”. Land covered by trees is not eligible. The subsidy rules have enforced the mass clearance of vegetation from the hills.
Just as the tree-planting grants have stopped, the land-clearing grants have risen…even in places where farming makes no sense because the land is so poor, farmers will now be paid more to keep animals there. But to receive this money, they must first remove the trees and scrub that absorb the water falling on the hills.