Lincoln researchers look to save saltwater-damaged farmland after coastal flooding

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The University of Lincoln has started a £72,000 research project to help farmers bring back saltwater-damaged land after coastal flooding.

In December 2013, the east of England experienced the most severe tidal surge since the 1953 flood, with sea levels rising by almost six metres in places. More than 2,000 acres of farmland was flooded with some of the most serious breaches south of the Humber and around Boston.

The new study aims to work out the true economic cost of coastal flooding and how farmland damaged by saltwater can best be brought back into use to support Lincolnshire’s agricultural industry.

The study is delivered in collaboration with farmers operating in and around the Lincolnshire Wash.

The team of scientists and economists will consider the potential economic impact including the long-term effects of increased levels of soil salinity on agricultural land.

This will include modelling future scenarios of potential sea level rises and resulting impact on soil salinity levels on England’s east coast.

The results will be freely available and be used to engage policy stakeholders to provide an independent assessment of flood defence strategies and potential mitigation strategies in the Wash region of the county.

Soil scientist Dr Iain Gould. Photo: Stuart Wilde

Soil scientist Dr Iain Gould. Photo: Stuart Wilde

Dr Iain Gould, a soil scientist from the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology, said: “Seawater inundation leaves residues of salts, such as sodium, on the soil – high concentrations of which can damage soil structure for years.

“Although farmland can recover over time and various mitigation measures, in the worst cases, deep soil structure is so badly damaged farmland can be left unable to support commercially-viable production for sustained periods.”

Dr Gary Bosworth, a specialist in the resilience of rural economies based in Lincoln’s new School of Geography and project lead, said: “The threat posed to British agriculture by climate change and rising sea levels cannot be underestimated.

“Three years ago storm surges breached some of the coastal defences along England’s east coast.

“The hidden impact on the quality of our prime agricultural soils is still being felt by farmers today.

“One of the primary climate change forecasts is that sea levels may well rise and this, combined with potential changes in storm intensity, may increase flood risk.

“We hope by setting out the economic costs of saltwater contamination of farmland we can make the case for a greater policy focus on mitigation and adaptation strategies.

“We are also optimistic that we can offer practical solutions by improving scientific and industry understanding the most effective mitigation and adaptation measures.”