Sunday, 9 February 2014

Ironically, plans are already in place to sort out the flooding issues on the Somerset levels.

Flooding in the Somerset levels
A plan for future management of the flood-stricken Somerset Levels has been drawn up by a task force addressing the region’s water problems.

Dubbed a ‘vision’ of what the Somerset Levels and Moors might look like in 2030, the task force's plan embraces the area’s flood management head-on, as politicians have demanded short-term responses to the current crisis.

The task force was actually set up last year to find ways of guiding water and land management policies over the years ahead, and included representatives of farming, conservation, local authorities and government agencies.  DEFRA’s excellent environment minister at the time, Richard Benyon, created the task force in the wake of the floods of 2012-13, which also coincided with the ending of many of the conservation agreements that had protected the area for the last 28 years. It should provide a long-term plan which will eventually control and hopefully prevent such disastrous flooding in future.

The floodplains will be managed to accommodate winter flooding – widely recognised as part of the special character of the Levels – while reducing flood risk elsewhere. The frequency and duration of severe flooding, and hence flood risk to homes, businesses and roads, will be reduced. During the summer there will be an adequate supply of irrigation water for farmers and wildlife in the wetlands. On the low-lying peat moors, water levels will be adopted to conserve the soils and avoid the loss of carbon to the atmosphere. Water quality will be improved and meet all EU requirements. Unsustainable farming practices will be adapted or replaced to secure a robust, sustainable base to the local economy.

A spokesman said “The really encouraging thing is the degree of consensus which the vision represents. We all want the Levels’ landscape to remain the green grid-iron of withies (barriers made of osier branches), rhynes (drainage ditches), meadows and droves (herds of cattle) that we know and love. We all want it to continue to be farmed productively, but in ways that enhance the nature conservation interest. We all want the water to be managed so that the flood risk is reduced. We all want an even richer mix of wildlife than we've got already, and we all want a thriving local economy built around the Levels’ special qualities”.

“For the first time, all of the organisations and interests in the Levels and Moors are speaking with a single voice in saying 'this is how we want the area to be'.  The action plan to deal with flooding gives us a priceless opportunity to get things right for the Levels, its people, its farmers and its wildlife.” 

Let’s hope this is the case. Time will tell.

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