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Farmers angry over climate change experts questioning flood plan for Somerset Levels

By cfayfineran  |  Posted: March 08, 2014

Farmers angry over climate change experts questioning flood plan for Somerset Levels

Farmers angry over climate change experts questioning flood plan for Somerset Levels

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Climate change experts have angered farmers after questioning whether it was fair to spend £100 million of taxpayers' money to save the Somerset Levels.

Climate expert Lord Krebs has sent a letter to Environment Minister Owen Paterson saying the Levels should not be made a special case and any plan should be good value for money.

Earlier this week the Owen Paterson received an action plan outlining £100 million worth of measures that need to be taken to safeguard the area from future flooding.

The Government has pledged £20 million towards dredging and the clean-up operation, but it is still unclear where the money for major capital projects such as the £30 million barrage on the Parrett will come from.

The Committee on Climate Change warns Mr Paterson that defending the Levels will become "ever more difficult" as sea levels rise by 12cm by 2030 and intense rainfall events become even more common.

Lord Krebs, chairman of the adaptation sub-committee, tells the Minister that the Levels is "a largely engineered wetland landscape" and any public funding should face strict face tests to ensure "value for money is being achieved".

"Funding from central Government for flood risk management is limited, and as a result many worthwhile projects have to held back each year," he said.

"Whilst the immediate needs of the affected communities will be a priority, it would be unfair in the long-term for the Levels to attract more taxpayer support than similar areas elsewhere.

"The long-term approach needs to be sustainable and cost-effective. It shouldn't require taxpayer funding to be diverted from other projects that would deliver greater flood risk benefit."

A report from the committee points out that 900 new houses have been built in Sedgemoor in the ten years to 2011 and says farmers have also contributed to the problems by planting fields with maize.

But farmers say it's easy for Lord Krebs to make judgments from his office in the Horse of Lords or Oxford University, and he should visit the Somerset Levels and see the devastation for himself.

A spokesman for the National Farmers' Union said: "Yes, we do need have to have a debate about climate change in the longer term, but now is not the time to have it.

"At the moment what we are trying to do is dig people out from a terrible mess caused by 20 years of inaction from governments of both stripes. A mess that was not of their making.

"It's all very well for Lord Krebs to dish out advice about sea levels from behind a nice dry desk in a nice warm office but is he really going to tell the poor folk on the Somerset Levels that they should not have taxpayers' money spent on them even though none of this is their fault?"

The NFU spokesman said that if the Government wanted value for money they should have seen that it would have been cheaper to have spent money on flood prevention than pay for an expensive pumping and clean-up operation afterwards.

"In the longer term we have to look at land management practices, but the Government need to understand that there's no point spoiling the plan for an h'apeth of tar and now is not the time to wade in saying people should be left high and dry," he said.

Lord Krebs praises the Somerset Levels and Moors Task Force for recognising that farming practices, soil conservation, peatlands restoration and making properties more resilient should all play a part in protecting the Levels.

But he urged planners to avoid further development in the area until they know that measures such as dredging are working and tells the Government that lessons learned on the Levels could be used elsewhere.

Sharing costs among those who have a role and interest in avoiding future flood damage would bring different interest groups together, he said.

"There's a broader question of which bits of managed landscape do we decide to carry on defending and which bits do we say we have to use as natural soft defences for flooding; they are just there to absorb water, " Lord Krebs told The Times. "I'm not saying people should get out of the Somerset Levels because I think it's too early to make that judgment. But... we must ask ourselves how we prepare the country for flooding which the models suggest will become more common. It may well be the case that there are areas too expensive to defend."

But John Osman, the leader of Somerset County Council, challenged Lord Krebs to "come to Burrowbridge and say that to the people who have been cut off for eight weeks".

Bridgwater MP Ian Liddell-Grainger wants the proposed Parrett barrage funded from general taxation but expects a local flood tax to be considered for other measures.

"Lord Krebs is wrong," he said. "We have to manage climate change, not give in to it. Since 1995 there has been a moratorium on doing anything other than bird sanctuaries and environmental issues."

The Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC) of the Committee on Climate Change is due to present its first statutory report to Parliament in the summer of 2015.

Responding to the Krebs letter, a Defra spokesperson said: "These proposals were addressed in the Action Plan. The recent weather has had a devastating impact in Somerset. Government is investing £20.5 million to help the community recover and better protect it for the future."

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7 comments

  • nigant  |  March 10 2014, 12:21AM

    Everyone seems to be a climate change expert! Krebs has no qualifications in the subject, being a zoologist, like another person who pontificates on the subject of the Levels and strangely another so called lord! He is an ornithologist, which might explain his intentions! He did the first badger cull, and when it became non politic to agree with it, he turned tail and went against it. These people really annoy me, they don't live here, they don't have much of a clue about the history and they just jump in, feet first to get their names in the papers all full of the own self importance! I would suggest to him that he goes and interferes in someone else's business, he is not wanted here and he talks through his.......!

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  • Charlespk  |  March 09 2014, 2:07PM

    http://tinyurl.com/pb5wgw3 (open in a new window)

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  • Charlespk  |  March 09 2014, 1:08PM

    The Parrett's main tributaries include the Rivers Tone, Isle, and Yeo, and the River Cary via the King's Sedgemoor Drain. The 37-mile long river is tidal for 27 miles up to Oath. . But because the fall of the river between Langport and Bridgwater is only about 1 foot per mile, it is prone to flooding in winter and during high tides. . Many approaches have been tried since at least the medieval period to reduce the incidence and effect of floods and to drain the surrounding fields, but it must be kept regularly dredged to enable enough flow of water out to sea. . . . . The Severn Estuary does have one of the highest tidal falls in the world. . The Environment Agency should have known this, and not gambled with it to placate the RSPB bird fanciers and any other environmentalists as they have done. . . . The EA's own hydraulic modelling shows that dredging is effective - perhaps maintaining the sluice at Hunstpill might be an idea? . Nobody in their right mind would claim that flooding can be eliminated altogether. . . . . . No amount of denial or ignorance of the geography of the levels or the historical facts will change that. . . . 'Heads must roll'!!

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  • Charlespk  |  March 09 2014, 1:04PM

    The Parrett's main tributaries include the Rivers Tone, Isle, and Yeo, and the River Cary via the King's Sedgemoor Drain. The 37-mile long river is tidal for 27 miles up to Oath. . But because the fall of the river between Langport and Bridgwater is only about 1 foot per mile, it is prone to flooding in winter and during high tides. . Many approaches have been tried since at least the medieval period to reduce the incidence and effect of floods and to drain the surrounding fields, but it must be kept regularly dredged to enable enough flow of water out to sea. The Severn Estuary does have one of the highest tidal falls in the world. . The Environment Agency should have known this, and not gambled with it to placate the RSPB bird fanciers and any other environmentalists as they have done. The EA's own hydraulic modelling shows that dredging is effective - perhaps maintaining the sluice at Hunstpill might be an idea? Nobody in their right mind would claim that flooding can be eliminated No amount of denial or ignorance of the geography of the levels or the historical facts will change that. 'Heads must roll'!!

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  • Charlespk  |  March 09 2014, 1:01PM

    If Lord Krebs is a 'climate expert', then I'm a brain surgeon. . A hundred years of weather records is but a spec of dust in the Earth's climate change time frame. The Medieval Period. Recent work has confirmed that all of the coastal wetlands around the Severn Estuary were affected by a period of post-Roman inundation first postulated by Godwin (1943; Rippon 1997b, 124–7; forthcoming a; forthcoming b). Domesday shows that the coastal marshes were extensively re-occupied by the late 11th. century, and the extent of settlement, size of populations and numbers of plough-teams recorded, strongly suggest that these areas were protected from tidal inundation by one or more sea walls. (experiments cond.) By the 11th/12th century Puxton had expanded from its original core in the northern part of the "infield", but although a substantial hamlet-sized settlement emerged, this area was typical of most of the Somerset Levels in having a highly dispersed settlement pattern (eg Rippon 1994). At some stage a continuous sea wall was built along the coast, though the location of this sea wall is not known: on the Welsh side of the estuary coastal erosion during the 15th century led to the sea wall being set.

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  • Charlespk  |  March 09 2014, 12:48PM

    Correction:- That should be £50million not billion.

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  • Charlespk  |  March 09 2014, 12:46PM

    Lord Krebs is 'Public Enemy No 1" as far as the countryside and farmers are concerned. . He's the man who frittered £50billion of Public Money on useless and unnecessary trials. . He's a liability. . . THE TRUTH ABOUT THE KREBS 'SCIENCE' Memorandum submitted by P Caruana (BTB 33) House of Commons – Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – Written Evidence Page 1 of 3 14/02/2010 "My name is Paul Caruana and I work for the a Defra Wildlife Unit (Polwhele) that is currently wrapping up the Krebs Trial. I have worked in the Unit for twelve years; five as a fields person, four as a Field Supervisor and the last three as a Field Manager (Higher Scientific Officer). I have been involved in the live testing regimes of the early 1990s, the Badger Removal Operations of the mid 1990s and the current Krebs Trial since its inception. I feel that my experience as an ex-RAF Logistics Officer and as an individual that has had a lot of 'hands on' experience could be valuable to any balanced and rational debate affecting the future handling of the current TB epidemic." 1. Badger removal operations worked well when the land being culled was made fully available, not just the area dictated to us by vets. 2. Where badgers were totally removed from a farm, that farm, after it had its infected cattle culled, often stayed clear of TB for up to 10 years. 3. We stayed on farms for up to three months to ensure that ALL badgers were caught; unlike the Krebs eight days per year trapping regime. 4. You do not need large scale culling for it to be effective if the culling effort is robust from the start. 5. Krebs had too many anomalies and weaknesses in the strategy for it to be successful. It took us four years to steer away from trapping setts that had been interfered with by Animal Rights Activist, to being able to trap badgers anywhere in order to eliminate them. That is only one of a raft of operational problems we faced and had to endure. 6. Limited trapping; eight days per year with Krebs; has little effect if carried out late in the year; the effect being that areas went almost two years without an effective cull. . . cond.

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