I am so sick of all this rain! I suppose I should be grateful that there is no flooding round here, but this winter is just too much. We have had the wettest winter for 130 years. It is so strange how different the rain has been in the past years – it is no longer British rain, that just drizzles and mists. It is more like monsoons – sudden heavy downpours, then brilliant sunshine, then more deluge.
It’s great that at last something is being done for all those victims of flooding, which is now affecting areas of Surrey, London, Buckinghamshire, Oxford and Kent as well as the worst area, Somerset, but it is a case of too little too late. The MP for Somerset declared a state of emergency, and has called the head of the Environment Agency a git for mismanaging the situation. But at last the Royal Marines are involved in sandbagging and building temporary flood defences and the Pm has told local councils to spend what they need and he will reimburse them. In the Somerset Levels, over 60 square miles of prime farmland are under water, as are many of the homes and cowsheds which are on higher ground. This may not seem like a lot to people in America or Australia, but this is a small island, and this is a lot of land. And the mighty River Thames is now causing problems with 3 counties along its length holding their breaths and praying the banks hold.
This is really bad for the ruling Conservative party. They are traditionally supported by country people, and the MP for Somerset is very annoyed with them and has demanded the resignation of Lord Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency who claimed he was proud of their work. It is not just the physical damage; locals are suffering immense psychological trauma, unable to sleep for fear of the waters reaching their homes and forcing them to flee. Sadly, there has also been a rise in robberies, especially of heating oil, so people are unwilling to leave their homes for fear of break ins, further adding to their stress. God help them when the waters at last subside, as there is a nation wide shortage of builders to help them fix their homes and businesses.
Last week Prince Charles, famous for his outspoken and often ridiculed views on conservation was welcomed, as he is a man who with large country estates, understands the problems, and was the first to offer financial aid to the stricken locals. He has since been mocked for offering so little, but at least he listened, and he understood the problem in a way that urbanites cannot.
The PM David Cameron at last made a trip to see the floods in Somerset, arriving by helicopter to describe the scenes as ‘Biblical’ ; what is also Biblical is the level of incompetence that has led to this horrific situation, yet another example of what is known as telescopic philanthropy. If this was happening in Africa or Asia, all sorts of help would have been mobilised long ago. Many areas have now been under water since before Christmas, which means that severe long term damage is now happening. Plants are dying, so are insects and small animals. Trees and hedges are being carried away, blocking roads and further destabilising the soil. I have no idea how they will recover. Even animal feed in barns is increasingly waterlogged, so farmers are struggling to feed their cows. How will they feed them when the water subsides? The land is so saturated that every time it rains, the levels just keep on rising.
Somerset is a flood plain. The clue is in the name – Somer settlement, it was a place where Saxons in the aftermath of the Roman occupation used to bring their livestock to feed on the rich grasses in the Summer, retreating to escape the rising floods in the winter, when floods from the surrounding hills would bring nutrient rich mud to fertilise the grassland and provide shelter for many species of waterbirds. This rich farmland attracted monks to the area, as a place of safety, where they lived on hilltops, surrounded by plentiful food. This helped make the abbey the wealthiest in England.
But since the 17th century, the levels have been drained, the water meadows and reed beds replaced by pasture, but the silt keeps coming down the rivers, so they need to be dredged. Locals know this, but the government stopped dredging in the 1990s, so the streams and rivers are not up to the task of normal water runoff, never mind this Noah-style inundation.