Sunday 9 March 2014

The Complete Bastard road trip to Somerset

Somerset: No shortage of trees

Today I have been out and about in Somerset taking photographs.  You don't really get a feel for the extent of the flooding by driving around. It's not up until you get to the top of the "Mump" at Burrow Bridge can you see just how bad it is. To the south it goes as far as the eye can see. And it's deep too.

In some of my photos today you can see the hills in the far distance (see above). The eagle-eyed will notice is that the hills surrounding the Levels are quite densely wooded. The arguments made by "expert" hydrologists (and George Monbiot) were that planting trees upstream is preferable to dredging. This was a ridiculous argument to begin with since once the "sponge effect" is at saturation it makes no difference (even the UN NAO says so), and secondly, there's no shortage of trees on the Somerset hills.

No amount of tree planting would have made a bit of difference here. Hannah Cloke, professor of hydrology at Reading University, went on record to say that dredging would make very little difference to the floods. Seeing how much water is there, even by increasing capacity by another 50% in the rivers, ditches and drains, we would still be looking at floods. This has been exceptional weather. But the lack of dredging means that this water will stay on the Levels for the better part of the year, rather than a matter of weeks. Without the capacity, the escape rate is too slow.

The water stays on the land because the drains are at capacity, the rivers are at capacity, and the the bottom line is that there is not enough drainage capacity because of silt. At King's Sedgemoor Drain they are actually pumping from one field into another because there is nowhere for the water to go. Pumping into the
King's Sedgemoor Drain would be pointless because it has burst its banks.

Insofar as damage to homes goes, I barely saw any, but the land is ruined. What I saw today was quite serious inland silting on the Parrett and Tone, and then out at the estuary at Bridgwater; massive mud bank meanders that slow the flow into the sea. This is twenty years of policy neglect. Consequently, farmers will miss the planting season this year and any grass crops will be dead by now. At present pumping rates, there is an outside chance of clearing it before summer, but even then, the ground will still be saturated. If we get sustained summer rains the floods will return, and it will spell ruin.

It may be the case that by the time the land is usable again, the financial risk of planting (assuming the capital is available) will be too much for farmers and insurers, and the land may be abandoned. That is what the environmentalists have been hoping for all along. They would like nothing more than to see it remain as wetlands.

As breathtaking and beautiful as it was today, I was also looking at a crime scene where the unelected have made casual calls on the property of farmers without consultation. Insomuch as the dredging will cost millions, the damage done as a result of abandoning maintenance will cost several million more. And guess who pays? One seriously hopes the farmers take legal action. And win.

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