Somerset levels - monks that dug them knew undredged rivers do not drain

Tony Gosling tony at
Fri Jan 31 00:54:48 GMT 2014

Shame on George for appalling drivel in the G - 
Tory party defensive action yes, but that's not what the Guardian is for

see also this excellent fb group set up by the 
locals on which I've been a-posting

Somerset floods: this is a man-made disaster

Somerset apple farmer Julian Temperley is one of 
the thousands whose homes and livelihoods have been damaged by the deluge

Somerset floods: this is a man-made disaster

Submerged: Julian Temperley at his flooded family home Photo: Jay Williams
By <>Anna Tyzack
12:43PM GMT 30 Jan 2014
Floods here on the Somerset Levels are normally 
really good fun. The sun comes out and we go 
sailing over our fields and my eldest daughter 
Alice [Temperley, the designer] will take some 
pictures of a girl in a canoe wearing one of her 
dresses. We happen to run our business, 
<>The Somerset Cider 
Brandy company, in a part of Somerset that is low 
lying, so we’re prepared for flooding. The water 
arrives, then quickly disappears and no damage is 
done because we have systems in place to control 
it. But there is nothing fun about this current 
flood, which came on New Year’s Day and has stuck around ever since.

The Environment Agency has been widely reported 
as saying it’s a freak occurrence. Not a chance. 
This is a man-made ecological disaster. The River 
Parrett, which runs through the Levels, is 
blocked and badly needs dredging. I’m not sure 
people realise that this is not just a theory 
being discussed in the papers, it’s a fact. It’s 
what is actually happening. The river at 
Bridgwater is 10ft below its banks, while five 
miles upstream it is overflowing.

If I don’t dig out the ditches on my land all 
hell breaks loose. I lose my single farm payment 
and receive a fine. But the Environment Agency 
won’t dig out its blasted river and so my ditches 
have nowhere to drain. As a result we have 50 
acres of land under six feet of water – it would 
take more than 30 years for it to evaporate 
naturally. Thankfully I’ve managed to salvage 
most of the cider and cider brandy in our barns 
but I’ve lost some of my orchards and in Thorney 
House, our family home where my 98-year-old 
father lives, the flood water comes half way up 
my wellies. A few weeks ago it was covering the 
furniture. My father, who is deeply upset about 
the situation, is staying with my aunt in 
Worcestershire while we rent him a house. It’s a 
big upheaval for a man of his age.

Of course it’s not just my family that has been 
affected. About 20,000 acres of farmland in 
Somerset have been underwater for a month now. 
I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures. The ancient 
village of Muchelney is totally cut off; you can 
only get there by boat, and Thorney, where my 
father lives, has been evacuated. The reality is 
horrific: tractors and cars have been submerged; 
animals drowned, and the locals are in despair.

An oak furniture maker near Bridgwater has lost 
more than £1million of furniture, while the 
potter John Leach, 75, whose grandfather Bernard 
Leach established Muchelney Pottery, a family 
dynasty, has had to lay off his five employees; 
unless they were prepared to swim, there was no 
way they could get to their workshops. He’s in a 
deep depression and I think we’d lose him from 
the area altogether if he could sell his house. 
But of course it’s filled with water, so that’s not going to happen.

So why hasn’t the Environment Agency dredged the 
river? It used to be done every five years; even 
more than that in the areas where silt builds up 
more quickly. But for the past 20 years the 
Environment Agency has refused to dredge – a 
process that would have cost them about £4million 
– arguing that it is anti-environmental and 
causes as many problems as it solves (which 
defies common sense). Instead, £31million has 
been spent on creating a spurious wildlife 
reserve to protect the beetles in the river banks 
which, by the way, are very close relations of 
cockroaches. To think national treasures such as 
Leach are considered of less importance than some dubious beetles!

This reluctance to dredge is about as ridiculous 
as me telling MPs in London to take down the 
Thames Barrier, pull down the Embankment, and let 
the Thames flood Soho as it pleases. The Somerset 
Levels, just like London, are a man-made 
environment; the River Parrett was not put where 
it is by God but by man. Taunton and Yeovil are 
two of the fastest-growing towns in England and 
they’re putting more pressure than ever on the 
Parrett, a slow flowing, naturally silty river. 
My great-great-great-grandfather used to bring 
coal barges up it from Wales; you couldn’t do 
that trip in a canoe, now – the bottom of the river is so high with silt

We need to dredge 15 miles from the mouth of the 
river up to Thorney, as has been done in some 
shape or form for the past 500 years to safeguard 
communities from this kind of flooding. Not even 
the Second World War got in the way of it – we put Italian POWs on the job.

When the Somerset Levels flooded last year – and 
water poured in to my father’s house for the 
first time since 1926 – the Government declared 
it a once-in-a-lifetime event. Now it’s happened 
again, they’ve conceded that “some dredging might 
be done” but only after they’ve carried out 
studies. This week the chair of the Environment 
Agency Lord Smith told BBC Radio 4’s 
programme: “Dredging would probably make a small 
difference, but it’s not the comprehensive answer 
that some people claim.” The fact they think they 
need to research the situation shows how stupid 
they are. River dredging happens all over the 
world all the time. If they need someone to tell 
them whether water flows up hill or down hill, 
they should ask a local farmer or call in the 
army to sort out the situation – that’s what 
happened in the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2001.

We’re going to be flooded here in Somerset for at 
least another five weeks. The longer the water 
lingers over the Levels, the greater the 
ecological disaster. If the weather was 10 
degrees colder, the flora and fauna beneath it 
would be protected but as it is the grass and 
trees are dying and everything is starting to smell.

There’s also the economic damage to consider. In 
both the villages of Thorney and Muchelney 
there’s at least £1million damage, and about 
£50million across the whole area. Once Thorney 
House has dried – which will take weeks – it will 
need to be cleaned, replastered, rewired and 
replumbed, every appliance replaced and the 
furniture repaired. Last year we also had to 
replace all the old wooden floors with tiles; the 
whole job cost £70,000. This year the damage is 
three times as bad and the insurance companies, 
most of which were so accommodating last year, 
aren’t going to take kindly to renewing our policies now.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve started 
receiving emails from my neighbours asking when 
the church services take place in Muchelney. 
They’re all going to church now; they think God’s 
got something to do with all this water. But this 
is quite clearly a man-made problem. Yes, it’s 
been wet but we are, after all, in the middle of 
winter. There has been no cloudburst or crazy 
storm. The only thing God can be blamed for is 
not giving the Environment Agency any brains.
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