Flooding has become an increasing concern for government, local authorities and businesses in the UK over recent years, as well as for communities affected by or at risk of flooding.
Claims from the floods in Cumbria and southern Scotland in November 2009 could exceed £100m, according to the Association of British Insurers.
The floods affected more than 2,064 homes and businesses, led to the death of a police officer, the collapse of six bridges in Cumbria and the closure of highways, footpaths and other infrastructure for safety reasons.
The Environment Agency estimates that more than 5m people in England and Wales live and work in properties at risk of flooding from rivers or sea.
Though Defra has national responsibility for flood and coastal erosion risk management, it delegates its responsibilities and provides funding to the Environment Agency, Local Authorities and Internal Drainage Boards.
Following last Novembers floods, the House of Commons Transport Committee is inquiring into the impact of flooding on bridges and other transport infrastructure in Cumbria (you can submit written evidence to the Committee until 19 January).
This follows the Pitt Review of preparedness after flooding in England in June and July 2007.
Defra has subsequently published two progress reports setting out how it is implementing the recommendations contained in the Pitt Report, and how implementation will be achieved further through the Flood and Water Management Bill, which passed its second reading in December.
What is all-too-often missing in these reviews and the science, computer models and legislature underpinning them, is the impact flooding has on people and places.
First, local people are rarely involved in improving understandings of the flood problem or coming up with possible solutions.
Public debate following the 2009 floods revealed feelings of isolation and frustration.
Perhaps this is because the agencies responsible for predicting and managing floods operate at a distance from those affected by their policies.
Secondly, flooding should be prioritised as a rural land management issue.
The Pitt Review, for example, recommended managing rural land to reduce rural and urban flooding at the local level and the use of natural processes when developing flood defence schemes.
A number of flood and coastal defences are in need of repair or replacement.
But an emphasis on natural processes rather than building physical flood defences is commonplace.
With ‘no active intervention’ or what I call ‘abandonment’ a possible management option, decisions are being taken that could lead rural lands and shoreline to be lost forever.
This is why ‘robust flood defences’ is one of ten key themes contained in the Rural Services Network manifesto.
The manifesto highlights inequalities in the provision of rural flood defences - including a ‘one size fits all’ approach used by the Environment Agency and emphasis among policy makers to defend urban areas with high populations from flooding.
This is clear from evidence submitted to us from the Pickering Flood Defence Group.
The group highlighted the impact of flooding on their community when 30 properties were devastated and more than £5m damage was caused in the 2007 floods, the fourth major flood in nine years.
It also highlighted how the Environment Agency’s cost-benefit analysis meant the town had not received funding to provide adequate management schemes.
The manifesto seeks to address the concerns and inequalities highlighted in Pickering - and by many other rural communities and practitioners across the country - by calling for a separate funding strand for rural flood defence works.
With public and political attention on flooding once again dwindling, there is a pressing and ongoing need to listen to the concerns of communities and businesses in rural areas affected by or at risk from flooding.