Environment Agency criticised over maintenance after river bursts its banks

Landowners in Lincolnshire have expressed concerns about the maintenance of the River Steeping after extensive flooding caused its banks to burst.

Heavy rainfall in the town of Wainfleet has seen Royal Air Force helicopters drafted in to drop sandbags in an attempt to stop the flow of water and residents were evacuated from their homes by emergency services.

A local landowner called maintenance carried out by the Environment Agency (EA) a “failure” after fields in the rural area were submerged following the river’s breach on Wednesday.

Joe Taylor, a small landowner just outside of Wainfleet, said: “The big failure is that the EA hasn’t done anything to maintain the river.

An RAF Chinook helicopter delivers sandbags to plug a gap where the River Steeping burst its banks near Wainfleet All Saints, in Lincolnshire
An RAF Chinook helicopter delivers sandbags to plug a gap where the River Steeping burst its banks near Wainfleet (Joe Giddens/PA)

“They’ve done very, very little if any maintenance of Steeping River for the last 20 years. We had problems in 2007.

“We’ve known and they’ve known for years that they don’t carry out a proper planned maintenance.

“They have done some work on the bank but they’ve spent a lot more money on badger setts, they’ve spent about two lots of £300,000 on this particular stretch of the river, they’ve spent a lot on other parts of it, so it’s been wasted money as we consider it.”

The 69-year-old added that he had received little information from the emergency services and that rescue efforts should have happened 48 hours ago.

But James Grant, who owns a local farm, said the focus should be on learning from the incident rather than “pointing the finger”.

Mr Grant, in his sixties, said: “This operation is massive because there’s massive flooding. It is a major, major problem until we get that breach filled.

“I think sometimes a finger can be pointed at the Environment Agency because it’s top heavy and often needs more support on the ground.

Cattle stranded in floodwater at Thorpe Culvert, near Wainfleet All Saints, in Lincolnshire
Cattle stranded in floodwater at Thorpe Culvert, near Wainfleet (Joe Giddens/PA)

“The criticism of them is that they’re good at talking but they need to support that with some good action on the ground, a lot of their operatives are working darn hard – we all are.”

The owner said it was the biggest flooding event in his 18 years of working on the farm, and that the Environment Agency “desperately” needed support from locals.

“Everybody is joining up to try and help to prevent what it is fast approaching being quite a major disaster,” he said.

The Met Office said the county had seen 100mm of total rainfall for the month as of June 12, almost two times the amount expected for the time of year.

A Chinook was deployed on Thursday to try to stem the flow of water, which is continuing to be used into Friday alongside a Puma.

The RAF, with support from a joint RAF and Army unit, is flying in almost 70 one-tonne bags of gravel to help deal with the adverse weather conditions.

The Environment Agency has been approached for comment.

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