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Flooding relief fund set to hit £2.5 million

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: May 31, 2014

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When it was launched just nine months ago the Royal Bath and West Society's Somerset Levels Relief Fund had a mountain to climb, but by the end of the year it is likely to have £2.5 million in the kitty for future flood prevention work.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson's visit to the show on Thursday was a catalyst. After discussions between The Society, Mr Paterson and representative of two big corporate donors and two trust funds the Society was able to announce that a total of £500,000 has now been pledged.

And chief executive Dr Jane Guise says: "One trust is seriously considering contributing £2 million. We think we will be well on the way to £2.5 million in total by the end of the year, and a lot of that will be as a result of the Secretary of State's visit."

The fund was launched after the severe floods of 2012, which alone cost the Somerset economy £10 million.

The people who live on The Levels knew that the Environment Agency's decision to stop dredging the rivers Parrett and Tone was part of the problem. They knew that long-term maintenance, and slowing run-off into the rivers was vital.

They knew a tidal sluice was essential to stop silt being pushed back up the Parrett. But the Environment Agency had been told to put protecting lives, businesses and houses first. The Government did not count farmland as a priority.

After 2012 the agency did admit that dredging could help. But still it had to find the money.

Before launching the Royal Bath and West Society fund its chairman, Edwin White, wrote to David Cameron, pleading for help. Mr Cameron passed the plea to the then Defra Water Minister Richard Benyon who said the area did not qualify for extra cash under existing criteria.

And so the fund was launched with backing from Somerset dairy farmer and Glastonbury Festivals founder Michael Eavis.

The aim was to raise £1 million to £2 million and "shame" the Government into match-funding to get the dredging done. Some doubted that any significant sum would be raised, but the Royal Bath and West Society was determined to take the lead.

Then came the 2013 floods and at last Mr Cameron announced cash for one-off dredging. But that is just the start. The 20 Year Action Plan for the Levels can only go ahead with partnership funding, and the Royal Bath and West Society Relief Fund will go a long way to help.

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