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Fund Britain’s Waterways is campaigning for national and local governments to act now to protect the public benefit and natural capital of our waterways, which are at risk of severe decline and irreversible degradation from neglect, pollution, climate warming and biodiversity loss. The campaign is supported by a coalition of organisations, including the Broads Society, representing hundreds of thousands of users and supporters of inland waterways.

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Working Together for Better Broads Funding


Since June 2023, the Inland Waterways Association and the National Association of Boat Owners have initiated and managed Fund Britain’s Waterways. Prominent supporters now include many national bodies such as the RYA, British Marine, the Angling Trust, British Canoeing, Paddle UK, British Rowing, and over 110 other businesses and non-governmental organisations across the country.


The Broads Society is planning a rally at Acle Bridge on Sunday, 5th May, at 2:00 pm to show our support for the campaign and its objectives.


The Broads are certainly suffering from underinvestment, and costs are rapidly increasing. Climate warming and sea-level rise are taking their toll on the Broads' infrastructure and flood defences. In our region, the Environment Agency and the Broads Authority are the principal organisations in need of support to fight climate change through mitigation and adaptation. We and many other waterways must be concerned that the government is not maintaining regular funding levels at this critical time.  Adaptation to the risks involves ways to protect against flooding, through sea and river defences, pumps and new ways of keeping homes and businesses safe. All of this will cost a lot of money that ultimately comes from the public purse.


By joining forces with other organisations through Fund Britain’s Waterways, we aim to get Broads voices heard, including in Defra and Parliament.


We are living through a time of major environmental change, and climate warming lies at the heart of many challenges affecting the management of protected areas, wetlands and navigations. Governments worldwide have been slow to respond to the problem, but the effects are now clear, and there will be a high price to pay. 


The London School of Economics estimates that the cost of climate change damage in Britain will increase from 1.1% of GDP at present to 3.3% by 2050 and 7.4% by 2100. When we consider the concerns raised when 2023 GDP was up just +0.1% on 2022 and when the fourth quarter of 2023 saw a fall in GDP of -0.3%, it’s obvious that climate change impacts on GDP will significantly lower today’s living standards.

While tackling climate costs like migration, flood, drought, coastal erosion and sea defences, our governments will have much less money available for health, education, pensions and other benefits. To compensate, environmental investments for the future, including grants to waterways management bodies like the Broads Authority and Environment Agency, are at risk of being cut to the bone. In a vicious cycle, under-investment in climate mitigation such as protecting and maintaining wetlands, peatlands and other important carbon sinks such as those in the Broads, may increase the financial burden on future generations even more.


This gloomy scenario has to be resisted.


According to the LSE analysis, strong mitigation action could reduce the damage to the UK from 7.4% to 2.4% of GDP by 2100, but this will be difficult to achieve as many of the drivers of change come from disruption to the global economic system and loss of trade – problems that are near-impossible to control. Reduction in arable land as the UK floods in winter and becomes increasingly dry in summer will see the agriculture sector halving in value, and as pressures like this cascade through the British economy, impact models show that the risk could fall very heavily on East Anglia, the Fens and the Wash (see LSE’s Climate Change Risk Map below), huge areas of which are below sea level.

map of climate risk cost
UK Climate Change Risk Map (credit LSE 2022)

Conversely, the benefits to health and the economy from mitigation measures taken now could exceed costs in the second half of the century, while proactive investment in adaptation measures such as coastal protection can significantly reduce the risk of damage.


In the Broads, mitigation involves preventing the oxidation of carbon locked up in peat soils by keeping them wet and finding innovative ways of growing useful crops under waterlogged conditions. Paludiculture, as this is called, is already producing new products for feed and building materials.


Consistent and sufficient financial support is needed now.


The Broads Authority has two main sources of income. In 2022/23, what is generally called the national park grant was £3.42M, but with the inclusion of capital funding, access money and Farming in Protected Landscapes grant aid, this rose to £5.39 million, while navigation tolls from boat owners amounted to £3.87 million. The fact that the Defra core grant is less than tolls income concerns boatowners, who worry that their pot is being raided to support the protected landscape.


Looking first at the navigation money - the Authority has to ensure that navigation expenditure equals navigation income in any one year and be accounted for separately from spending on the protected landscape. But it has been at pains to explain that very few lines in its budget are devoted solely to navigation or landscape expenditure, so most budget items are a mixture, for which evidence-based judgments must be made. Some boat owners feel that they are being over-charged and complain at the rising cost of tolls, despite the evidence that the Broads are relatively inexpensive compared with other inland waterways. At the same time, boat owners are not reticent in asking for more moorings, more dredging and more water plant management, all of which are increasingly expensive as the climate warms. It’s difficult to square the circle without more money entering the system.


Meanwhile, the Broads Authority is increasingly concerned that the basic Defra grant has been flat-lining for five years, and is now less than the navigation income. New money has been entering the system in the form of ad hoc capital funds from Defra, but whilst very welcome, such income is difficult to budget for and is used mainly for occasional large pieces of engineering kit such as Truxor dredging machines and Berky aquatic plant harvesters needed, ironically, for the navigation.


The Authority is strongly and correctly arguing that the rivers and broads that make up the navigation are not just a benefit to boatowners but are also a major public benefit, for example, to walkers, naturalists, tourists and many others enjoying the wetland landscape. On this basis, the Authority has asked Defra for additional core support for the upkeep of the navigation, as well as for the protected landscape. There can be no doubt that the move, if successful, will benefit boat owners and make the ring-fencing of the navigation budget less meaningful. Conversely, if Defra does not raise its core grant, toll-payers are likely to become increasingly defensive.


We need to act now.


Returning finally to the overall cost of looking after the Broads in an era of a warming climate and rising seas, there is clearly a need for more significant investment, and we don’t need to look far away to see the alternatives. The Environment Agency has warned that maintaining the shingle ridge that protects the coast between Hunstanton and Wolferton is unaffordable, threatening thousands of properties in the next 30 to 40 years, not to mention wildlife havens. Similarly, as impacts on sea defences further east increase and costs rise, sacrificial washlands in the Broads will likely be considered, probably to the north of the Thurne and in the Halvergate marshes.


The picture is complicated, but we must keep our minds on the big picture and look for ways to fund the maintenance of the Broads landscape for the benefit of all.  As the LSE map shows, our part of England will be among those hit hardest and will be expensive to maintain. HM Treasury will look closely at the cost-benefit balance of adaptation and mitigation measures in the Broads, and there is a risk that they may find us wanting.


This is why we must all join together under the Fund Britain’s Waterways campaign. The Broads Society is proud to support it, and we hope to see you at the rally we are organising on Sunday 5th May at Acle Bridge, at 14:00.

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