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Chris Rundle: Impressive expertise, but this is advice we could do without

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: March 13, 2014

Sir John Krebs

Sir John Krebs

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Chris Rundle is distinctly unimpressed with the latest warning from Lord Krebs.

So what are we to make of the surprise intervention of Lord Krebs in the Somerset flooding debate? My thinking, for what it’s worth, is that we should inform his lordship that when we want his advice we’ll ask for it.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the noble Lord has banged off a letter to Owen Paterson questioning the wisdom of the Government backing a plan to invest £100 million over the next two decades effectively flood-proofing the Levels.

“While the immediate needs of the affected communities will be a priority it would be unfair in the long term for the Levels to attract more taxpayer support than similar areas elsewhere,” he asserted.

For a moment I was somewhat confused. Which Lord Krebs were we talking about? Because this one was billed as a ‘climate expert’. So I checked. It was indeed Lord John Krebs, who in a previous incarnation was a badger expert.

Farmers and others will recall him as the designer of the famed Krebs trials. These were set up following the Krebs report (author J. Krebs), which recommended that randomised culling be trialled to see whether it would reduce the incidence of TB.

Unfortunately the trials were so compromised by the activity of saboteurs and by foot-and-mouth that their findings were as good as useless and the vast sums of money that had been spent on them were wasted.

Lord Krebs was also one of the founding fathers of the Food Standards Agency, another hugely costly quango which has done absolutely nothing to prevent us eating our way into the record books as the most obese nation in Europe and which appears to have been looking the other way when the food industry it was laughingly tasked to police was foisting on the public tons of horsemeat which, through some miraculous transubstantiation, had been turned into supermarket ‘beef’ burgers.

It was only when the Irish clocked what was going on that the FSA was forced to heave itself out of its close-fitting armchair and do something about it.

And now the all-purpose peer has become a flooding expert as well as a badger expert and a food expert. Ah well, always good to have more than one string to one’s bow.

But he should get out more often. If he got out as far as the Somerset Levels, an area he writes about with such impressive authority, he would discover that it is not an area similar to others elsewhere but is, to all intents and purposes unique, which is why the Environment Agency’s one-size-fits-all policies have led to this winter’s major disaster.

He would also understand that it wasn’t only the Levels which suffered economic loss this winter: tourism in the rest of the county was dealt a massive blow from the fall-out as the word got around the populace that Somerset was closed, insofar as holidays were concerned. The absence of early season tourists has sparked another round of pub closures, their landlords deprived of vital income injection after a lean winter. And if he bothered to speak to people across the county he would find the vast majority will be entirely happy to cough up a few quid a year for a flood prevention levy to ensure that villagers from Moorland to Thorney aren’t flooded out of their homes again; that road and rail links continue to operate even when there is heavy rain; that farmers can carry on producing excellent food from some of the most fertile soils in the country; and that the Levels can be more vigorously promoted as a place for tourists to come and spend their money, to the benefit of the wider county.

But then, when you’re an all-purpose expert of the calibre of Lord Krebs listening to other people’s views is clearly a waste of one’s valuable time. Anyway ‘people’ is hardly a word that comes easily to the peer’s lips in the current context. It’s much easier to use the more impersonal and less emotive term ‘communities’, which conveniently fudges the truth that we are talking about real families, real livelihoods and real homes.

However, those seeking to protect not only the Levels but some £2 billion worth of property in Bridgwater by means of a barrage should note the name of Lord Krebs and keep a careful watch on him because a change of government next year could very well see him elevated to some other well-remunerated and influential quasi-governmental role.

Watch out too, for environmentalist George Monbiot, another of Miliband’s favourites and who has already been giving us all the benefit of his in-depth knowledge. Not only Somerset Levels farmers, though, have been told their days are numbered and they might as well prepare to get out now.

So too have the breeders of Herdwick sheep, whose animals Monbiot wants to see removed from the Cumbrian fells in order to protect ‘sensitive habitats’. Is there no end to the man’s genius – for interfering?

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