UK & World News

  • 31 March 2014, 10:30

Dredging Begins On Flood-Hit Somerset Levels

Dredging is getting under way on the Somerset Levels after homes, businesses and farms were submerged by some of the most serious winter flooding the area has ever seen.

From this morning the Environment Agency will start work on a 200-metre stretch of the River Parrett close to where it meets the River Tone at Burrowbridge.

Eventually eight kilometres of waterway will be dug out with silt removed from the banks and river bed to allow the water in these tidal rivers to flow more freely.

It is currently estimated that parts of the rivers are only running at 60% capacity.

Dredging forms part of the "Somerset Levels and Moors Flood Action Plan" commissioned by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson.

Additional government investment was announced earlier this year to fund the work. In February, Prime Minister David Cameron promised dredging would begin in March.

The start of dredging follows months of extreme weather which saw the country's largest-ever pumping operation on the Somerset Levels and Moors, with millions of tonnes of water pumped off the Levels every day.

Now the flood waters have subsided it has been deemed safe to begin clearing the rivers.

Dr Paul Leinster, chief executive at the Environment Agency, said: "Today is an important milestone in the work to reduce the risk of flooding to people, property and land in Somerset and we welcome the additional money from government that has allowed us to undertake this further dredging."

Farmer James Winslade's home and farm in Moorland were flooded. He estimates that after insurance claims he has a 200,000 shortfall to pay for all the repairs.

He is pleased the Environment Agency has stuck to its promise to clear the river but will be watching their progress closely.

Mr Winslade told Sky News: "There is an element of distrust because Lord Smith (chairman of the Environment Agency) said to me a year and a bit ago that something would be done within six months and nothing was done.

"And I have that element of reservation of how much they're going to do and how well they're going to do it."

Gavin Sadler, from Flooding on the Levels Action Group, believes people power played a huge part in getting the Government to take action.

He said: "Every time it rains we're just going to think is this going to happen again. That is why it's so important that this dredging is done before next winter.

"Dredging won't stop the flooding. We expect to flood but not to the extent and not to the duration of what's happened this year."

Some of the removed silt will be used by the Environment Agency for flood bank repairs and construction to further improve the flood resilience of the area.

Meanwhile, Network Rail has confirmed that it will reopen the Great Western Main Line through Dawlish in Devon by the end of this week as planned.

A large stretch of the railway line collapsed into the sea when the sea wall was breached during one of the winter storms in February.