On 29 June Defra announced a new pilot project to provide better control of water levels for the preservation and rewetting of lowland peat. The £5.45 million Lowland Agricultural Peat Small Infrastructure Pilot (LAPSIP) project will support pilot schemes by internal drainage boards (IDBs) to install new water level management infrastructure and monitoring technology within drainage districts containing lowland peat. Interventions that have the potential to enable IDBs to retain more water safely within their systems and reduce CO2 emissions from our lowland landscape.
The announcement of the LAPSIP project was coordinated with the publication by Defra of the Caudwell Report from the Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force, which was tasked by the government to explore how lowland agricultural peat soils can be better managed to protect productive agriculture and contribute to the government’s target to achieve net zero by 2050.
Robert Caudwell’s report prominently features ‘water for peat and more water-level management control’ in its opening chapter and first three recommendations. In essence the report found that if we are to preserve lowland peat in England, then we must implement changes to increase our capacity to store, retain and release more water in lowland peat landscapes, underlining the important role IDBs have to play. The Caudwell Report was published alongside a commitment by the government for new investment and actions to improve lowland peat and reduce carbon emissions, of which the LAPSIP project is a part.
The Association of Drainage Authorities (ADA) is supporting Defra with the delivery of the LAPSIP project. IDBs will be able to bid later in the year to receive grant funding of up to £250,000 per scheme, for all or part of the cost of a project. Interventions funded by the project must contribute to the board’s water level management to facilitate the better preservation of peat soils, either directly, or by facilitating changes in future land management practices by local farmers that reduce the loss of, and emissions from, peat soils. In essence this means enable IDBs to safely accommodate higher water levels within a part of a drainage district with peat soils without adversely increasing flood risk. The LAPSIP project team envisage between 15 and 20 schemes from IDBs to install water level management infrastructure and monitoring technology will be funded by the project.
Examples of the types of measures that might be taken by IDBs to create higher water levels within a part of a drainage district safely to help preserve lowland peat soils include: installation of tilting gates, flow diversion and control devices, and water level monitoring and telemetry systems. Boards may use their own funds or other third-party funding sources for schemes that exceed the pilot grant cap of £250,000.
One important requirement of the LAPSIP grants will be that the schemes have to be substantially complete by 31 March 2025 which is the grant cut-off date. This should be borne in mind by IDB officers and board members when considering what schemes might be suitable.
The grant scheme is being prepared and managed by ADA. Grants will be issued directly from Defra once a scheme has been approved. ADA will therefore be seeking to engage with relevant IDBs over the next few months. In the first instance ADA has invited IDBs to submit an expression of interest for schemes they are considering by Friday 4 August 2023. This is a precursor to the bid submission process that will commence in the autumn.
The expressions of interest phase will not form part of any assessment of an IDB’s final bid. It is issued with the aim of ensuring that ADA and Defra understand the likely level of interest, scope and nature of bids which may come forward from IDBs. The information gathered will in turn be used to help with developing the scope and content of the formal bid documentation. Please note that it is ADA and Defra’s intention to keep the whole bidding and approvals process as ‘light touch’ as can reasonably be achieved whilst ensuring that this publicly funded pilot money is targeted appropriately. The bidding process is likely to open in late summer 2023, with successful schemes confirmed by the end of 2023/early 2024.
For further information please contact the LAPSIP project team at email@example.com.