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Fertile agricultural land often occurs within floodplains. Flood defenses for farmland therefore have been a major element of land management in these areas. Agricultural practice has often been associated with the canalization and embankment of rivers, whilst drainage has contributed to the loss of floodplain habitat and long-term habitat change. Drainage of fertile land has been a major element of agricultural policy in the past, but this policy is now changing and more emphasis is being placed on delivering public benefits and agricultural enhancement.

Analysis of available long river flow records shows high variability in both the frequency and severity of floods since the 1950s. Whilst the 1980s and 90s were exceptional for many rivers, the frequency of flooding was higher in the 1950s, especially in the north. Recent flood events would suggest that flooding is becoming more frequent. Some of these problems can be attributed to the changes in land use and development within floodplains. Some 6.7% of Scotland ’s prime agricultural land is within flood risk areas. The responsibility for protecting agricultural land and property from flooding in Scotland lies primarily with land owners. The Water Environment and Water Services ( Scotland ) Act 2003 (WEWSA) introduced a duty on Scottish Ministers, SEPA and responsible authorities to promote sustainable flood management: “The Scottish Ministers, SEPA and the responsible authorities must promote sustainable flood management.” Amongst a range of things, Local Authorities are responsible for planning control, the establishment of Flood Appraisal Groups to provide practical guidance and information on flood risk, assessment of watercourses in non-agricultural areas for conditions likely to pose flood risk and maintenance of watercourses. The provisions of the WFD include a more coherent overall approach to river basin management including flood mitigation.

During the present century it is anticipated that Scotland ’s climate will become wetter, more stormy, and sea levels will rise. This will result in an increased flood risk both inland (adjacent to rivers and smaller water courses) and along low-lying coasts. It is anticipated that flooding is likely to increase across Scotland this century. Depending on the scenario used, floods are likely to significantly increase in frequency and volume by the 2080s, and in especially sensitive river basins, floods which presently occur on average once in fifty years could occur twice as frequently. (Scottish Executive, 2002).

Agricultural practices have a role in regulating run-off particularly through increased storm water storage, restoration and management of wetlands and upland areas. This can reduce downstream flooding risk. Because a significant area of prime agricultural in Scotland is itself at risk, reducing accelerated run-off through changed cultivation techniques and riparian zone management, may have agricultural and environmental benefits as well as reducing flood risk. In a similar way to control of agricultural pollution, this points to the benefits of a catchment-based approach.


  • Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH): Scottish Freshwater Ecosystems External Website
  • Macaulay Land Use Research Institute : Water Resources
  • Reid, D.C., Edwards, A.C., Cooper, D., Wilson, E., McGraw, B.A., (2003): The quality of drinking water from private water supplies in Aberdeenshire , UK . Wat Res, 37 (2) 245-54.
  • Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) (2004): Go with the Flow: the natural approach to sustainable flood management in Scotland . A report by Caroline Davies for the RSPB Scotland External Website
  • Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) : External Website
  • Scottish Executive (2002): Climate change: Flooding Occurrences review, Scottish Executive Research External Website
  • Scottish Executive (2005): Key Scottish Environment Statistics External Website
  • Scottish Natural Heritage : External Website
  • Sylvester-Bradley, R. (2005): Scottish Environment LINK Newsletter May 2005.
  • The National Technical Advisory Group on Flooding Issues (NTAG) External Website
  • WWF:External Website

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