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Somerset Levels dredging to begin within days as flooding subsides

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: March 27, 2014

By Tina Rowe

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Dredging of a crucial 'pinchpoint' on the Somerset Levels will begin on Monday, just within the timescale promised by the Prime Minister.

Mr Cameron vowed in February that work would start in March and the last day of the month will see contractors' machinery move onto land beside the River Tone upstream of Burrowbridge to begin the vital job.

A four-kilometre stretch of the Tone will be tackled, and then a four-kilometre stretch of the River Parrett below the confluence of the two rivers. The aim is to take their profiles back to 1960s standards.

Feet of silt have built up over time leaving the rivers at only 60 per cent capacity in the 18 years since the Environment Agency took over responsibility of the rivers. The cost of putting that right is estimated at £5.7 million in the 20-year flood plan drawn up by bodies including the Environment Agency and local drainage boards.

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There is much more work to be done to protect the Somerset Levels and Moors from the kind of devastation caused by the heaviest January rainfall for 250 years.

The 20-year plan includes important work in the upper catchments of the rivers that drain into the Levels, including tree planting, to help hold water back.

The Government pledged £10 million for immediate work. The full plan, including a sluice across the Parrett at Bridgwater to prevent tidal surges, would cost £100 million.

The Environment Agency has called in contractors to undertake the dredging, and once the eight kilometres has been completed and assessed more dredging could be undertaken.

Other work that was scheduled to take place this year in the plan includes, if appropriate, installing permanent infrastructure to enable temporary pumping sites at Dunball Sluice and Northmoor as well as the Bridgwater-Taunton canal to be available for future use, at an estimated cost of about £2 million.

Cattle are beginning to return to the flood-damaged fields, more than a month after they were evacuated. James Winslade made four trips to bring some of his 550 cattle back to West Yeo Farm in Moorland yesterday. They have been scattered over many miles of Somerset farmland as farmers as far afield as South Petherton made fields available in the crisis.

Mr Winslade said: "It will be great to get them back, it will make life so much easier. I can get some feed in and I won't have to take it back and forth." As he spoke he was aboard a tractor, which is on loan from agricultural machinery firm John Deere, as his own machines have been ruined.

Tourism businesses in Somerset are also being offered a helping-hand to help dispel the perception that the county is underwater.

A series of free workshops with expert speakers will offer practical information and advice in an initiative launched by Visit Somerset, working with Visit England and local authorities.

They are aimed at those who have been affected by the extreme winter weather and who are concerned about the impact on visitor numbers for the rest of the year.

Less than 2 per cent of the county was affected by the flood water, but images seen world-wide have given some a different impression.

It is estimated that there are about 3,000 leisure and tourism businesses in Somerset, which account for 25,000 jobs and boost the economy by £850 million each year.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was left in no doubt that Sedgemoor District Council will continue to press for adequate funding to reduce the risks of future flooding during his visit to the county.

During a visit to Bridgwater on Friday Mr Clegg thanked Sedgemoor District Council's leader, Duncan McGinty, and chief executive Kerry Rickards for raising the recent floods as a major incident, thereby highlighting the plight of residents in Sedgemoor with the Government.

Mr Rickards said: "Once the waters recede and the media spotlight moves on to something else, it's very easy to get moved on to the next challenge. However, SDC will keep chasing for money to prevent prolonged flooding. We will not stand by and run the risk of more floods when we have spells of torrential rain."

Speakers at the tourism workshops include Manda Brookman, director of the CoaST one Planet Tourism Network, Jim Hardcastle from Viper Marketing and Dr Simon Forsyth, an expert in climate and weather changes. Bookings can be made online at www.visitsomerset.co.uk.

Councillor Sylvia Seal, portfolio holder for leisure and culture at South Somerset District Council, said: "The flooding has affected many businesses not only in South Somerset, but across the whole of Somerset."

The workshops will be held at tonight at Dunster's Yarn Market Hotel; tomorrow at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, RNAS Yeovilton; at Glastonbury Town Hall on Monday and at the Grand Pier, Weston-Super-Mare, on April 1.

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