EWR Impact on Farming and UK Food Security

We received the following input from Edd Banks a local farmer in the option E area. His also chairman of the National Farmers Union (Cambridge branch).

“The EWR proposal will have a great impact on many different parts of our community, but one part that will be hit hard is the agricultural sector. Cambridgeshire is the bread basket of England with just over 50% of the all the wheat grown in England, grown within 50 miles of Cambridge. The land is fertile with most of it being categorised as grade 2 arable land and the character of the area is one of large open fields which is what helps make it much more efficient to farm and to boost yields. Often when organisations such as EWR Co. start their evaluation of where to put infrastructure such as new railway lines, the farm land is the obvious choice, but what they do not understand is the impact it will have on the productivity of the farmland and the subsequent effect on the individual farmer. Often the land has been in the family ownership for generations. Everything about farming is for the long term, there are no quick wins in agriculture and it takes a lot of time, effort, money and emotion over countless years to get the land into the condition it is. If the land was purchased more recently the farmer will be still trying to pay that off, which from the income generated from farming will take many years, only making the land economically viable for the next generation to farm it. Physically dividing blocks of land by cutting a railway through it will create many problems and the newly designated route will not have taken into account how that land is farmed. 

Therefore, you could end up severing one large field, which is efficient to farm and gives the opportunity to gain the best yields, into several smaller odd shaped fields that become uneconomic to farm and prohibitive for the large-scale modern machinery used these days. This means instead of just losing the area taken up by the railway, the farmer will effectively lose the entire field as the remainder will simply end up fallow. 

Another issue often over looked is the logistics of how the new segmented fields are farmed. In other words, if a field is sliced into multiple smaller fields by the railway and if those remaining areas are still farmable, how does the farmer move their machinery (crop sprayers, cultivators, combines etc) from one part of the field to the next. With EWR Co.’s commitment to having no level crossings, this could lead to farmers having to drive considerable distances (they will therefore often be forced to go through villages) just to reach the other side of the field. The new bridges and underpasses created by EWR Co. also need to be large enough to allow the largest machines farmers use to pass over or through them, otherwise this could effectively prohibit access to parts of land or cause even longer diversions. 

Other issues which will never be assessed by EWR Co. are the disruption to field drainage schemes, water logged areas of land due to shading from new landscaping and the devastation caused to crops by rabbits that will invariably take up residence in the cuttings and embankments of the new railway. All of these problems are considerable, because not only will EWR Co. create water logged areas of land which become much harder to farm or even unfarmable, but also the farmer will have to take on the cost of the control of the rabbits. Ultimately, they will never be able to control them as well as before and so large areas of land (made worse if the fields are small due to the division by the railway) will have substantial yield loss. This could be to such an extreme that again the fields become uneconomic to farm and therefore production would cease on that block. Putting this is into a national perspective, the UK is currently only 60% self-sufficient in terms of food and with continued pressure on agriculture land from new developments such as EWR, this position will only worsen.”

This input is consistent with the recent feedback that we have received from the local branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England.

The high grade farmland in the option E area is important for UK food security. Global sea levels are rising due to climate change and the IPCC prediction is that they will rise by 1.1 metres by 2100. More recently other studies have predicted much higher rises up to the 4.7m predicted by the surging seas studies by the same date. After a single Fenland flood in 1949 it took 8-9 years for the farmland to recover due to a species of nematode in the flood water. Floods could happen well before 2100. This means that we may well lose the most productive farmland in the country in The Fens. However, the higher farmland in the option E area would not be flooded and would therefore become even more precious.

Consider also that if the railway goes through the Option E area, over time, the local planning will favour new stations, jobs and housing along side the railway infrastructure. Perhaps Garden Villages with 5000 houses as already proposed by the Mayor. These will further damage the farmland and reduce the national food security.

2 replies on “EWR Impact on Farming and UK Food Security”

Thank you for adding to my education with your excellent and informed opinion. I confess to having not considered this situation before your post today.
I am sure you will have made your views known elsewhere, thanks again for sharing with us.

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