Somerset Wildlife Trust

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The Somerset Levels - action begins with dredging

 2nd Apr 2014

As the first crews begin a targeted dredge of 4.5km of the River Parrett and 3.5km of the River Tone, SWT offer their support to the Environment Agency (EA) in carrying out this work. The EA and their statutory partner, Natural England, have pulled out all the stops to make this happen quickly. The Levels community needed prompt action to bring hope for the future. The EA and Natural England deserve all our thanks for acting quickly whilst also ensuring that environmental safeguards are in place. 

The EA have put in place a range of measures, like surveying for nesting birds prior to dredging and identifying safe places to spread silt, to minimise the short term impact of dredging. In the long term we trust that improved control of water will enable landowners to deliver their agri-environment agreements and create an even better quality environment in the Levels.

The EA used evidence from the summer 2012 floods to identify the current targeted dredge as having the potential to reduce the impact of flooding on people and infrastructure. Modelling showed that this dredge could have significantly reduced the duration of the summer 2012 flooding, and slightly reduced the depth. 

Using evidence like this to identify cost-effective actions is the right way to plan our response to the recent catastrophic flooding. Any further work beyond the current targeted dredge needs to be based upon similar sound evidence, to avoid the risk of deeply dredged rivers speeding water to floods downstream and to make sure that public money is spent on the best range of cost-effective solutions.

Our concern remains that hard engineering solutions like dredging are seen as a panacea to flooding. We believe that an effective response to the recent flooding should be based on the 5 key principles identified in our briefing of 20 January. Some hard engineering will be part of the flooding solution in the Levels, but dredging proposals need to be considered in combination with other solutions that work with nature and different combinations of solutions will be appropriate in different places.