Recent floods have damaged farmland and are impacting badly on people, properties and businesses on the Levels. Many are now calling for a "Big Dredge" of some of the rivers, which they believe will reduce the flooding impacts.
Dredging at the right scale
Dredging at the right scale can make a contribution and help keep water moving which is why we have offered our support to the Save the Levels Relief Fund appeal to raise money to dredge the River Tone from Hook Bridge to the confluence (3.3km) and the River Parrett from Burrowbridge to Northmoor pumping station (4km).
Developing a plan over the next six weeks
Dredging is only one part of the solution and must be carefully planned in terms of how and where to dredge. We will be working as part of The Somerset Levels and Moors Task Force to develop a plan over the next six weeks. We think that a range of solutions can be used to address flooding in the Levels and nature can be at the heart of these solutions.
Five key principles
We suggest that flood management on the Levels should be governed by five key principles:
1. Focus flood defence resources on protecting lives, homes, businesses (including farm businesses) and utilities. Invest in: better local flood defences for vulnerable rural properties, improvements to key roads making them less vulnerable to disruption, and more support in preparing Level’s communities for extreme events.
2. Maintain critical watercourses to ensure appropriate levels of drainage. This includes dredging at the right scale to keep water moving on the Levels, but in planning how and where to dredge, don’t damage the Level’s wildlife-rich wetlands.
3. Slow the water flow upstream to reduce peak floods on the Levels. For example, upstream soils can be made less compact, natural habitats can be restored, more broadleaved trees can be planted and temporary flood storage created along drainage systems in both upstream towns and the countryside. This has been effective elsewhere in the country, and needs to be used to help the Levels as well.
4. Use the existing water management infrastructure better by spreading flood water more effectively when it reaches the floodplain. Make better use of the Parrett Flood Relief Channel and the gravity floodplain across King’s Sedgemoor. Plan and enable land-use change to provide more space for water.
5. Build greater resilience in the way the floodplain is used. Incentivise the use of more flood-tolerant pastures, and encourage flood-sensitive crops such as silage and maize to be grown off the floodplain.
A long-term solution to water management
The Somerset Levels and Moors are some of the lowest, flattest areas in Britain. In ancient times this landscape was entirely waterlogged; today the area supports a highly valuable wetland of international conservation importance. Much of the area is farmed wetland and farming and nature conservation exist side by side.
Dealing with short term impacts is only part of the equation and we are committed to finding long-term solutions to water management that allows the majority of the Levels and Moors to remain as farmland.
An update on dredging of the Rivers Parrett and Tone issued by the Environment Agency on 7 March can be found here