LANDOWNERS claim flooding problems in York are being exacerbated by a failure to cut back trees and other vegetation on the banks of the River Ouse downstream of the city.

They have produced ‘before and after’ aerial images showing how the banks near Acaster Malbis were kept free of vegetation in the 1960s but are now covered in willow trees, which they say are narrowing the river and slowing the flow out of the city when the river is high.

The landowners - Roger Raimes, Malcolm Smith, Roger Kay, Garry Taylor and Ben Blacker - said that as with any drainage pipe, the passageway should be kept clear for "maximum efficiency" but claimed that the Environment Agency attached no importance to this with the Ouse.

“They are adopting a policy of encouraging willow growth on the bankside, in order to slow down the river,” they claimed.

York Press: The River Ouse downstream of York, pictured in 1964 (left) with little bankside vegetation and in 2019, with willow trees growing along the banks

“Whereas the river banks used to be kept clean, as seen in the photo at Naburn Lock in 1964, these same banks up and down the river grow a continuous and heavy line of willow. These trees are now some 50 years old and are all leaning into the river.

"This slows the flow of water under the trees, thereby allowing a build-up of silt on the bankside, to the extent that narrowing of the river is now measurable in metres. Given the scale of rainfall incidents caused by climate change, our rivers need to be in peak condition to get the water down to the sea as fast as possible.”

The landowners pointed to an agency document relating to the Humber which stated: “It is essential that flood defence embankments (coastal or river) are kept in good condition and so are mown regularly throughout the grass growing season.

“Research has shown that the regular mowing of grass improves the strength of the root network and erosion resistance of the grass sward….

“Regular cutting also prevents broad leaved plants and woody vegetation from getting established.

“Such vegetation can damage the embankment beneath by root penetration, overturning, encouraging burrowing animals.”

An Environment Agency spokesperson said that it operated flood defences and carried out a robust maintenance regime along the River Ouse to reduce flood risk to local communities.

“Landowners are responsible for repairing and maintaining river banks and embankments on their land and the Environment Agency has what is known as ‘permissive powers’ to carry out flood risk management activities, such as repairing banks or clearing vegetation, to protect communities if needed,” they said.

“The embankment in question is owned by a private landowner and our modelling shows that removal of vegetation along this stretch of river would not reduce flood risk to local homes and businesses.

“Rivers are managed differently now compared to several decades ago.

“We have developed a much better understanding of how they react after rainfall, meaning we can target our river maintenance more effectively where it has the biggest impact on managing flood risk.”