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Derek Mead: Somerset flood summit a waste of time

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: January 25, 2014

The Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service ferrying workers and schoolchildren from Muchelney, cut-off by floodwater, to Langport

The Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service ferrying workers and schoolchildren from Muchelney, cut-off by floodwater, to Langport

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From town centre improvements to appointing officers to jobs which are utterly pointless and simply wouldn't exist in the private sector, the waste goes on.

And yesterday there was another classic case: the Somerset flood summit organised by South Somerset District Council.

"Someone has to ask what this event cost, what with the travelling expenses and the officer time devoted to it – and for what? Apparently so that people who have been affected and aggrieved by the catastrophic flooding on the Levels could have a chance to air their views."

I wrote these words last March and my views about the worth of the event have certainly been vindicated this winter: it has achieved nothing, certainly not in terms of alleviating flood risks or tackling the long-term solution that is now staring us all in the face: dredging the rivers.

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In addition the Environment Agency, which would have turned up mob-handed for this pointless exercise in wasting money, has now been revealed as the culprit on whose head must be heaped all the blame for the flooding.

As if that weren't bad enough it now becomes clear that it has been taking money under false pretences for years, relieving drainage boards of millions of pounds for maintenance work but delivering nothing in return.

We have now reached the stage where there is no option for Somerset farmers but to by-pass the agency completely, take over river maintenance and flood management themselves, save the taxpayers money and save those living on the Levels from a repeat of the misery next winter – because unless a major dredging operation gets under way, and gets under way rapidly, that is clearly in prospect.

We need an interest-free government loan to invest in machinery and pay the operators and this can be paid back over ten years by way of the money we would otherwise be paying to the Environment Agency by way of precept.

There is a massive backlog to be tackled but this must, equally, be treated as a matter of urgency.

I don't want to hear any nonsense from the Environment Agency of the "risks" of spreading potentially "contaminated" silt on fields.

The huge tonnages it has allowed to build up while pocketing the money to clear it have to be shifted because now there is even less room for manoeuvre than there was a year ago.

Unless the rivers are cleared now they will be even more silted up if there is further heavy rain next winter and the damage will be even greater.

This has to be the way forward.

We have to put the Levels back under the control of people who know what they are doing, know what needs to be done and who have a vested interest in doing it properly.

We've heard and seen enough of the Environment Agency's "experts" their efforts have contributed to the biggest mess the Levels have experienced in decades.

Now it's time for the real experts to take over.

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8 comments

  • C_Freak  |  February 03 2014, 11:09AM

    You be right Charles mate. . They just own't be told, cos they thinks they knows it all. Once the ground be saturated the water just runs off wherever it be. This is what Popeye said ta Lord Smith. AncientPopeye | February 03 2014, 10:38AM "We don't need protection dopey, we need the rivers dredged so that nature can drain the land. Here's an insight for you Chris, The Bristol Channel has a 40 foot rise and fall on springs, with two tides a day there are 12 hours of the water ebbing, an ebbing tide, with the Parrett dredged would remove a massive amount of water. Here endeth the first lesson."

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  • sueeverett  |  February 02 2014, 5:03PM

    Charlespk - sorry Charles you think I am part of the problem, but I was educated about soil erosion over 30 years ago and can't see how highlighting that as part of the problem makes me personally part of the problem currently experienced in places like the Levels. Practices that cause soil erosion are indeed part of the problem (remember SOURCE - PATHWAY - RECEPTOR - is the order in which to remediate environmental pollution - including silt), all I can do is point out that it is happening and, where I can work with landowners, help them plan to do something about it (which is what I do - so hardly theoretical). It is tempting to suggest your comments are ignorant, but I will be kinder and suggest that we are all on a learning curve in this life and that it seems to me that you still need to learn a lot about land management and how land use can be modified to reduce runoff and nutrient-laden silt entering rivers.

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  • morgan_sweet  |  February 01 2014, 11:46AM

    I'd like to know what part of the Levels have flooded, the water seems to be all over the Moors to me.

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  • Charlespk  |  January 27 2014, 8:40AM

    The Parrett's main tributaries include the Rivers Tone, Isle, and Yeo, and the River Cary via the King's Sedgemoor Drain. The 37-mile long river is tidal for 27 miles up to Oath. . But because the fall of the river between Langport and Bridgwater is only about 1 foot per mile, it is prone to flooding in winter and during high tides. . Many approaches have been tried since at least the medieval period to reduce the incidence and effect of floods and to drain the surrounding fields, but it must be kept regularly dredged to enable enough flow of water out to sea.

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  • Charlespk  |  January 27 2014, 8:31AM

    You are typically part of the problem Sue Everett. . Not the solution. . Another who has never done the job, just a theorist. . We've seem it all before. . The problems you have created are everywhere.

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  • sueeverett  |  January 27 2014, 7:52AM

    Watercourse maintenance is a vital tool in the box for reducing flood risk but it is overly simplistic to suggest that all the problems being experienced now in the levels are due to lack of river dredging and 'flaky environmentalists'. Being involved in wetland management (not on the Levels) one of the activities we do is to maintain watercourses, but we have also taken measures to reduce silt entering the rivers by other means. So, let's start talking about drastically reducing the sources of all that silt that has built up in the Level's watercourses. Much of it is soil that is hemorrhaging off fields that are unsustainably farmed in the catchment, or sediment from slurry applied to fields, or soil eroding from road verges that continue to be damaged by bigger and bigger farm machinery. Past deep drainage in this area to enable permanent pastures to be ploughed up has also created problems and there is no point dredging back to these deep drain profiles which were created to get water off quicker in spring and summer so that individuals could harvest farm subsidies (e.g. the previous arable area payments and stocking supplements). This area is also going to face worse flooding in years' to come due to climate change and sea level rise. All the tools in the box are going to be needed: including a sensible annual plan for watercourse maintenance (that isn't going to have unintended consequences elsewhere) . However, a priority is also to address the source and pathways of the silt entering the ditches and rivers by looking upstream to improve the resilience of the landscape. All this is nothing new. It is for example an action in the SW climate action plan to "Improve soil husbandry and land management in sensitive catchments to improve rain infiltration and reduce run-off". To date I don't see much of this happening across much of Somerset where, even in recent years (for example) permanent pastures have been ploughed up and reseeded or are now growing maize and many hedgerows are still being harshly trimmed every year. These sort of activities have reduced the resilience of the landscape and mean more runoff and silt. My point is that everyone needs to take a breath and come up with a holistic, landscape-scale and landscape-based plan that will overall improve the resilience of areas prone to flooding. This needs to sit within a longer term adaptation strategy.

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  • Charlespk  |  January 25 2014, 5:02PM

    Quote:- "Unless the rivers are cleared now they will be even more silted up if there is further heavy rain next winter and the damage will be even greater. This has to be the way forward. We have to put the Levels back under the control of people who know what they are doing, know what needs to be done and who have a vested interest in doing it properly We've heard and seen enough of the Environment Agency's "experts" their efforts have contributed to the biggest mess the Levels have experienced in decades. Now it's time for the real experts to take over." Hear! Hear!!

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  • Charlespk  |  January 25 2014, 2:29PM

    Most of our problems can be laid squarely at the feet of flaky 'environmentalists', encouraged by Left Wing Governments who have reversed the centuries of intelligent land management that always required hard work and endeavor, qualities that are now increasingly in short supply. . Quango lead outfits like The Environment Agency, Natural England and the Regional Development Agencies have just slowly neutered all that has kept this country green, properly drained and well fed and watered over the generations.

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