"I will apologise for probably not having done enough to twist arms..."Lord Smith's apology of an apology after coming under fire over the Somerset floods.
The rising waters have caused much comment in the Tavern, not least because one of the clan grew up a stone's throw from Muchelney and saw at first hand the floods of 1947. The results of the collective musings are, in no particular order:
- If the Rivers Tone and Parret had been more accurately - albeit less picturesquely - named 'Drains', perhaps desk-bound bigwigs at EA HQ might have questioned the use of management techniques better suited to natural rivers.
- During the 1947 floods, the locals managed to get around thanks to a centuries-old network of narrow causeways designed to stand above flood waters. With increased car use, these footpaths lost their importance and many have since deteriorated or disappeared.
- For the past century (apart from a brief respite during WWII), heavy farm machinery has been steadily compacting the soil in areas previously trodden only by beasts of burden or used for pasture - meanwhile, the same machinery has made it possible to cultivate previously fallow headlands and remove stands of withies, altering the drainage patterns.
- Although the inhabitants of the Levels have somehow managed to escape the nicknames and jokes attached to fen-dwellers in East Anglia, the area was, by the 1940s, so accustomed to inundation that Darwinian selection had turned the local cats into accomplished and habitual swimmers.
- In the previous floods, a new development in one of the affected villages was hailed as a success - and a design to be emulated - because none of the new houses flooded. The fact that the water draining away from the development was washing round cottages downstream which had never before been affected (including that of a family friend, who had lived there flood-free since the 1930s) was, of course, someone else's problem.
Finally, a quick bit of research suggests that the higher echelons of the Environment Agency are stuffed with graduates of 'top' universities and Lord Smith himself boasts highly impressive academic credentials (albeit in the field of English Literature). Is it possible, I wonder, that this situation has fostered something of a sense of superiority over the horny-handed sons of toil and their petty concerns?
I suspect the Somerset farmer whose urgent request for channel dredging was rejected last year would certainly think so.