FLAG Press Release re: Dredging and waterway maintenance is crucial to the survival of the Somerset Levels

Release date: 3/10/2014

Press Release 

Monday 10th March 2014 

Dredging and waterway maintenance is crucial to the survival of the Somerset Levels

Since the release of the proposed 20 Year Plan last week there has been a lot of discussion about the costings and cause of the floods that have devastated the Somerset Levels over the past 2 months.  


Photograph (c) Matilda Temperley

FLAG insists that dredging will make a major difference to the flood risk of the Somerset Levels, as will the subsequent maintenance and management of the rivers and waterways to the workable standard that it was 20 years ago.  Whereas we recognise that dredging is not the sole solution to the problems that have occurred in the Levels, we feel that we need to refute some claims from the Environmental lobby that are confusing this issue.
Climate change and excessive rainfall are being blamed for the devastation but although we have had the wettest winter in 250 years, Met Office data shows that the rainfall in Somerset was not exceptional this winter.  Rainfall for this current winter was 513.6mm, whereas the next highest was 465mm in 1994/95, when there was no flooding.  This is an increase of just 51.3mm, which equates to just 10% increased rainfall – it cannot be argued that an increase of that amount of water would cause such a significant increase in flooding.  Further to this in 2012 there was 334.7mm of rainfall and the Levels experienced flooding second only to this year’s event.  This is not even in the top 5 of wet winters. Many properties and land had already begun to flood this December BEFORE the excessive rain.  These were then re-flooded in January.

Factors such as modifying farming practises, ensuring that the upper catchment area plants trees to slow the water flow, use sustainable drainage systems to hold water back and other measures will certainly help minimise flooding on the Levels, but the bread and butter of the matter is the continued cleaning and maintaining of the waterways.  Data from the Environment Agency following the flood of 2012 agrees that dredging would have a significant impact on the flooding situation.  A report by the Somerset Drainage Boards Consortium, using EA data, states: 
“The damage caused by flooding to communities, the economy, farmland and the environment is directly related to the duration, depth and frequency of a flood event. We now know that, had the Tone and Parrett been dredged in accordance with the scheme, which the EA is now proposing, Curry Moor would have been under water for weeks, rather than months, the A361 closed for days, rather than weeks, and the flooding risk to properties in Moorland avoided altogether. The disruption to people’s lives, the damage to the local economy and the consequences for farming and the environment would have been vastly less serious had the rivers been dredged. Reduced flood damages across the wider Parrett catchment would also have been achieved through the ability to operate flood risk assets sooner and for longer.”
Owen Paterson announced that £100 million was required to solve the flooding situation in Somerset.  However FLAG believes that if money is spent on flood management such as the dredging of the rivers this would be far less costly than the flood resistance measures proposed such as raising of the roads. These measures would simply not be required.
Furthermore there has been some opinions stating that £100 million is too expensive when the costs are equated to the few properties that would benefit.  This is not the case.  Currently the Somerset Levels are the principle flood defences to the major towns of Bridgwater and Taunton.  If the Levels were abandoned as some have suggested there would be no more room for any further water, so these towns would be vulnerable to repeated flooding, as there would be no where for the water to go.
If the Levels were abandoned the costs would far outweigh the proposed £100 million.  If you compensated the farmers alone for losing their land approximate figures, suggest that this could cost in the region of £120 million based on 30,000 acres of productive agricultural land at an average price of £4000 per acre.
Finally and crucially, the Somerset Levels is a unique and diverse landscape that up until the flooding was rich in wildlife and biodiversity.  To destroy this area would be to destroy a unique and beautiful place that could never again be recaptured.  Already 1000s of birds and animals have lost their lives and habitats and we have a duty to safeguard this important environment.  Permanently flooding the Somerset Levels and abandoning them to nature would destroy the very thing that is sought to protect.  All that would be left would be a fetid swamp, rather than a wetland teeming with wildlife that is managed in conjunction with farmers, landowners and wildlife organisations.
The costs and benefits for cleaning and maintaining the waterways are by far the best way to achieve flood minimisation in Somerset and this should be the main focus because the root cause of the devastation currently being experienced is plain; the drain is blocked and it needs clearing.
  • Climate change is NOT the main cause of the flooding on the Somerset Levels.  
  • Rainfall experienced this year is just 10% more than the previous wettest winter when there was no flooding event
  • Upper catchment management would alleviate flooding on the Somerset Levels, but dredging and maintenance of the waterways are crucial for over all success
  • EA computer modeling supports evidences that says dredging will make a significant difference to flooding on the Somerset Levels
  • Dredging and waterway maintenance is the most cost effective way to minimise flooding on the Somerset Levels and protect the towns of Bridgwater and Taunton
  • Abandoning the Levels would be far more costly than spending the proposed £100 million
  • If the Levels were abandoned then wildlife would suffer immeasurable and a unique and beautiful part of the UK would be lost forever
  • The costs and benefits of regular maintenance of the waterways are the best way to achieve flood minimisation in Somerset

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Notes to Editors:

1. FLAG Somerset - Flooding on the Levels Action Group. Please find out more by visiting http://www.flagsomerset.org.uk or join our Facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/groups/FLAGsomerset

2. Follow us on twitter @dredgetherivers

3. For more information or to contact us please email pressofficer@flagsomerset.org.uk