Record rain fuels dredging debate in south England

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Record rain fuels dredging debate in south England

Swathes of British farmland are submerged underwater following the wettest January for more than a century in southern English regions. Severe flooding from excessive rainfall has caused local rivers to overflow in the zone, according to reports from local media.rain2

One of the worst affected areas is the county of Somerset where residents, farmers and entire communities are living what they describe as an "island life." Somerset is a marshy, low-lying region dotted with farmland and villages, crisscrossed by rivers.

In some neighborhoods, scores of homes are flooded, children are being ferried to school via amphibious vehicles and farmers are being left to their own devices, desperately trying to salvage their land and businesses.

Entire villages have been cut-off and local communities have been calling for more help from the U.K. government with regard to flood protection.

A few days ago, the agriculture minister Owen Paterson visited some flooded regions to see the damage first-hand. Many local rivers have not been dredged for more than 20 years and it’s for this reason the government has been heavily criticized.

Since his visit Paterson – who recently gave a rallying speech to a farming conference urging people to ditch imported produce and buy British-grown fruits and vegetables - has pledged to review the river dredging policy.

The National Farmers’ Union and the Country Landowners Association (CLA) have both called for an urgent review of the government’s stance on flood protection.

The CLA pled, "we simply cannot go on like this."

The organizations said it’s vital the government recognize the economic importance of agricultural land in order to achieve long-term food security.

"We are never going to maintain it [food security] if prime areas of agricultural land are at horrendous risk of flooding. ... In the current economic climate there is a need to cut public expenditure but the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Environmental Agency must review their priorities if we are to maintain and improve our ability to feed ourselves," said CLA president Henry Robinson.

"The government must also make it easier for landowners to maintain those defenses the Environment Agency can no longer look after.

"In some cases individual landowners are willing to take on the responsibility for defenses but they become frustrated by huge amounts of red tape and cost involved."

Large areas of southern England from east Devon to Kent and inland across parts of the Midlands had twice the average rainfall for January while southeast and south-central England received more than twice its average rainfall with 175.2mm of rain from January 1-28, Met Office data reveals. This beats the previous record of 158.2mm experienced in January 1988.

The impact the rainfall has had on local agricultural communities is immense with acres of farmland remaining water logged. In many cases, crops that are destined for market remain underwater and the wet weather has not yet abated. Forecasts for February predict yet more rain.

The NFU agrees that urgent action needs to be taken to protect rural communities and the agricultural industry at large. In the case of Somerset, following Owen Paterson’s visit, rivers could be dredged, but not until September.

"Above all, the country needs to be in a position where flooding can be managed for both urban and rural communities to minimize the disruption and devastation that is taking place in several regions, affecting our homes, rural communities, businesses and wildlife," said NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond.

"We do not expect flooding to be prevented during exceptional events, but we do expect the EA to cater for events which are happening with such frequency. We have had flooding after a dry autumn, so this just goes to show how fragile our rivers are."

Raymond supported calls for dredging, urging the government to start the process sooner rather than later.

"But it’s clear that dredging rivers to return them to the previous capacity levels, while not quite a panacea, has to be a very important part of solving the problem. It would also have significantly reduced the extent, duration and frequency with which they’ve occurred in recent years, and significantly aided recovery efforts," Raymond said.

"We are encouraged that the government is now moving with urgency to prepare plans for dredging in Somerset, although this is long overdue. However, we are surprised that dredging may not start until September. This is, quite simply, too long for those living and working to wait and will not give enough time to tackle those problems that have already happened or those to come."




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