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David Cameron stunned by 'biblical' flooding on visit to Somerset Levels

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: February 10, 2014

Prime Minister David Cameron with Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger (2nd left), and farmer Tony Davy (right) during a visit to Goodings Farm in Fordgate, Somerset Picture: Tim Ireland/PA

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David Cameron spoke of the: "heartbreaking" sight of flooded farms and homes during an extraordinary day on the Somerset Levels in which Lord Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency, was forced to defy a call to resign from a local MP.

Both men were making their first visit to the Levels more than six weeks since rising waters first began to take their toll, flooding homes, closing roads and wrecking businesses.

Mr Cameron pledged that the Government will do "everything that can be done" to help those affected by the floods and stressed that he has been chairing meetings of the Government's Cobra emergency committee and that the Government has brought in extra pumps, the military and told councils: "If you need to spend money, spend it and central Government will re-imburse".

And in answer to a question from the Western Daily Press on whether financial help will be available for blighted business, he said: "There will need to be a hardship fund."

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He met third-generation farmer Tony Davy at Goodings Farm, which is under water in Fordgate.

Mr Davy's 65 cows have been moved off his lands deluged by the floods.

During the visit, Mr Cameron met fire service workers pumping from the property and local MP Ian Liddell-Grainger.

He wore wellington boots to walk around Mr Davy's farm, unlike Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who was derided for turning up at Northmoor Pumping station 12 days ago in smart black shoes.

He then visited evacuated residents at a private meeting in nearby Bridgwater.

"It's a biblical scene," Mr Cameron, who arrived by helicopter, said as he surveyed knee-deep water surrounding the farm.

"The scale of it here in Somerset is immense when you think of how many square miles are under water". See pictures of the floods from the in our gallery.

"Clearly people here have faced a very tough time and continue to face a tough time and that's why we have got to do everything we can to help.

"So more pumps, we brought in more pumps, more help from the emergency services, more help is there, money to help Somerset get back on its feet, the money is there, the Army coming in to help, whether its helping with sandbags, which they've been doing over the last 24 hours, or looking to see whether temporary bridges can be put in place.

"Everything that can be done will be done and I'll make sure that happens. There are always lessons to learn and I will make sure they are learned but Cobra has been sitting in almost permanent session so we can bring the whole resources of Government, the country, the military to bear.

"But there are lessons to learn. One of the big ones is that the pause in dredging that look place from the late 1990s, that was wrong and we need to get dredging again.

"I've said when the water levels come down and it's safe to dredge, we will be dredging to make sure these rivers can carry a better capacity of water."

He said the community response was "amazing" but warned there are sometimes tougher times when the water recedes and people fully understand the damage.

"We need to make sure that the district councils and Environment Agency and others are working together then and the local MP Ian Liddell-Grainger will do that," he said.

Earlier Mr Liddell-Grainger had launched an astonishing attack on the Environment Agency chief Lord Smith as he prepared to visit the Levels.

Mr Liddell-Grainger called Lord Smith a "coward" and a "git", and even threatened to "stick his head down the loo".

Mr Liddell-Grainger also called on Lord Smith to quit. "I will tell him what I bloody well think of him – he should go, he should walk," he said.

"I'm livid. This little git has never even been on the telephone to me. When I find out where he is, I will give it to him. He's a coward."

Arriving at the Willows and Wetlands Visitor Centre in Stoke St Gregory, Lord Smith dismissed calls for his resignation.

He said he remained "very proud" of the Environment Agency staff.

Residents spoke of their anger at Lord Smith's refusal to apologise for the EA's handling of the crisis and said they were not satisfied at the answers he gave to their questions.

They were furious that he spoke on Monday of there needing to be a choice between flooded front rooms and flooded farmland, a policy which rural communities say has led to the crisis.

Lord Smith insisted the top priority for authorities was "protecting lives", followed by protecting homes and businesses.

He said: "I have no intention of resigning because I'm very proud of the work the Environment Agency and its staff have been doing right round the country in the face of the most extreme weather."

Jim Winkworth, landlord of the King Alfred pub at Burrowbridge, said he was "bloody mad" at Lord Smith's refusal to apologise.

"We thought that's the least he could do," Mr Winkworth.

"He hasn't come down here to apologise, which is what he should be here for. If you apologise it means you're admitting you got it wrong, but he's not fit to do that."

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  • Charlespk  |  February 10 2014, 12:01PM

    It's time all the clowns that continually attack those who had, and still have the job of bringing this country back from the most disastrous period of government in living memory, started putting the blame back where it really belongs. . There is no 'Gordon Brown Money Tree'. . 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 endeavour, qualities that are now increasingly in short supply. . Quango lead outfits like 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. 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. . It does have one of the highest tidal falls in the world. . The Environment Agency should have known this, and not gambled with it to placate the RSPB bird fanciers and any other other flaky environmentalists as they have done. . Inside the Environment Agency have been exposing the failings of the Environment Agency for going on a year now - others have been exposing these failings for much longer. http://tinyurl.com/o6y5w5r (open in a new window) The EA's own hydraulic modelling shows that dredging is effective - perhaps maintaining the sluice at Hunstpill might be an idea? Nobody in their right mind would claim that flooding can be eliminated No amount of denial or ignorance of the geography of the levels or the historical facts will change that. 'Heads must roll'!!

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  • rogerh3  |  February 09 2014, 11:43PM

    • Expert reaction to Somerset flooding: http://tinyurl.com/q2bylno ; • Flood defence spending, actual & required: http://tinyurl.com/o96e4g3 ; • 'Don't blame the Environment Agency for floods. Blame the spending rules': http://tinyurl.com/prfeemn

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  • Jamie225  |  February 09 2014, 9:11PM

    Inside the Environment Agency have been exposing the failings of the Environment Agency for going on a year now http://tinyurl.com/o6y5w5r - others have been exposing these failings for much longer.

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  • Charlespk  |  February 09 2014, 2:41PM

    Please note: * Salary increases are assumed to be 1% per annum until 31 March 2015, reverting to the long term assumption per annum thereafter.

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  • Charlespk  |  February 09 2014, 2:10PM

    STOP PRESS!!! . . . Now The Environment Agency's, so called 'EXPERTS' who advise government, are; with the help of the BBC; trying to blame the current government for all the problems on the Somerset Levels. . You really couldn't make it up!! . Inflation / Pension increase rate.2013 - 2.5%. 2012 - 2.2%. 2011- 2.5%. Salary increase rate* 2013- 4.6%. 2012- 4.3 % 2011- 4.6% It's very nice if you can get it. http://tinyurl.com/no5nqbs (open in a new window)

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  • Biglog2080  |  February 09 2014, 10:39AM

    The only thing that will help us is Home Rule for England. The British State gives our money and taxes to Scotland the EU and foreign aid.

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  • Charlespk  |  February 09 2014, 9:55AM

    Cond. . . 2. the character of the Romano-British landscape, and in particular the extent of reclamation. 3. the process of medieval reclamation on the coastal marshes, especially its (undocumented) stages. 4. the nature of medieval wetland exploitation in the lower-lying inland freshwater backfens. It is all this that has led to our understanding wetland landscapes. There is much more by Stephen Rippon. . One might have expected the reclamational 'plumbing' of the Somerset levels to have been of much greater interest to residents of a city like Bath where the Romans had such a great influence.

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  • Charlespk  |  February 09 2014, 9:37AM

    14 Clayland colonisation: recent work on Romano-British and medieval reclamation in the Somerset Levels Stephen Rippon. Somerset has a remarkably diverse landscape at the very heart of which lie the extensive reclaimed wetlands of the Levels and Moors. In the very first Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological Society, William Stradling (1849) published a paper reporting some recent archaeological discoveries there, and since then scarcely a decade has gone by without further research into Somerset's wetland heritage. Three pieces of archaeological work in particular can be singled out as being of international importance: the excavation of Glastonbury and Meare Lake Villages by Arthur Bulleid and Harold St George Gray, the pioneering palaeo environmental analysis of Harry Godwin (eg 1941), and the major programme of work carried out in advance of commercial peat cutting by John and Bryony Coles (1986). Michael Williams' (1970) use of the area's rich documentary archives in his historical study of The Draining of the Somerset Levels also represents a seminal piece of historical geography. . . . . By the 1980s, the Somerset peatlands had become one of the more thoroughly investigated landscapes in Britain, and the on-going programme of work by Somerset County Council continues to make important new discoveries (Brunning 1997b). However much remained to be done, most particularly on the remarkably well preserved, yet previously neglected, Romano-British and medieval landscapes of the coastal claylands. . . . The potential of the coastal area should have been recognised earlier, notably through the diligent recording of sites around Burnham-on-Sea by Samuel Nash (1973), and on the North Somerset Levels by Marie Clarke (eg 1980), and the North Somerset Archaeological Research Group (Lilly and Usher 1972). In reading these reports (and in particular the correspondence of Nash: see Rippon 1995), one senses a feeling of surprise at the amount of material being found on the coastal claylands which had long been thought of as one of the less favourable environments in Somerset in which to live, even though less than a hundred years earlier a well-appointed villa was excavated at Wemberham, at the very centre of the North Somerset Levels (Reade1885). Though a handful of Romano-British villas appear to have had a significant industrial element to their economy, most were essentially the centres of agricultural estates, and as such Wemberham is testimony to just how productive the Levels were 1,700 years ago. However, the actual character of those landscapes remained illusive, for although the earthworks of a number of potentially Romano-British field systems were recognised during the 1970s, no systematic fieldwork or palaeo environmental work was carried out (Leech 1981; McDonnell 1979). A series of historical studies had also shown how productive the Levels were during the medieval period (85 86 Stephen Rippon) though work had focused on the well-documented ecclesiastical estates, most notably of Glastonbury Abbey (Keil 1964; Stacey 1972; Williams 1970). Very limited archaeological work had been carried out on a number of medieval settlements, most notably by Nash, though most remained unpublished (Rippon 1994, fig. 12.5; 1995). As with so many areas typified by dispersed settlement patterns, the lack of deserted medieval villages has led to the area's neglect by medieval archaeology. The 1990s have seen important advances in our understanding of four areas, the last of which was dealt with in David Musgrove's paper at the conference (unfortunately not available for the present volume): 1. the methodologies used for understanding wetland landscapes, notably the range of survey techniques employed, the integration of palaeoenvironmental evidence, and the combination of this with archaeological and documentary material and evidence contained within the present, or "historic", landscape. . . . cond.

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  • Charlespk  |  February 09 2014, 9:13AM

    @MoeXXX, is there any chance of you contributing something constructive to this debate instead of just abusing anyone who speaks up for the usually silent minority of country people? . Do you really not know anything at all about any rural matters? . And thank you Free2opine, but that's nothing more than I have come to expect from an intelligent lady of your calibre who has obviously been brought up to understand and enjoy country-living as well as all the intricacies of business and national and international politics. . Some people do seem to have a big problem with anyone with a brain. . They have nothing to say on any subject until someone starts putting them right. . We now see it repeatedly in these columns. .

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  • StanStill  |  February 09 2014, 7:44AM

    Grainger is all 'wind and you know what'. I am always suspicious of people with double-barrelled names, do they have such a complex that they cannot just be Mr Grainger. Lets just wait and see what imput Grainger has, knowing him it will be very little. I wonder how much he claimed in expenses for this visit,

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