What now for the Somerset Levels?
Last modified: 25 July 2012
Issued by RSPB on behalf of Somerset Water Management Partnership (Somerset County Council, Somerset Consortium of Drainage Boards, NFU, Somerset Wildlife Trust and RSPB)
A coalition of farmers, environmentalists and local authorities has today sent a strongly worded letter to Defra calling on them to support the establishment of special task force to revitalise the Somerset Levels in the wake of the recent devastating floods.
The coalition, representing Somerset County Council, Somerset Consortium of Drainage Boards, NFU, Somerset Wildlife Trust and RSPB through the Somerset Water Management Partnership (SWMP) is concerned that the needs of the area are being neglected. They give examples such as the withdrawal of resources for water management, the end of the Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) designation and the failure of bids to the Catchment Restoration Fund and to establish the Levels as a Nature Improvement Area.
Anthony Gibson, the chairman of SWMP, said; “Weather events this year, first drought, now prolonged flooding, are having serious impacts on this very special place - the Somerset Levels. Farmers have seen productive grass sacrificed to alleviate floods elsewhere and an internationally important wildlife site has been badly damaged.
“This must serve as a wake-up call to all concerned, not least Defra and the Environment Agency, as to the damage which is caused if sufficient resources are not made available to manage water on the one hand, and to maintain the delicate balance between farming and wildlife on the other.”
James Small, chairman of Somerset NFU, said: "The recent devastating flooding on the Levels caused significant problems for farmers and highlighted the need to develop a way forward for the area that delivers benefits for the environment and food production, but doesn't require farmers to foot the bill. We are keen to work with all those involved in order to achieve this and a special task force would certainly be a step in the right direction."
Mark Robins speaking for the RSPB said: “We need to turn the current threats to the Levels into opportunities. Despite current circumstances we believe there is a strong broad consensus amongst all interests as to the way forward for the Levels, but its achievement is jeopardised by the loss of resources and capacity including leadership for this special place.
“At the centre of this consensus is a view of a system that is resilient to change, where proper resourcing of flood risk, water management, and land use will provide opportunities for rural business, farming and food production, while making space for nature.”
The coalition is calling on Defra Ministers, the Environment Agency and Natural England to meet collectively with all local groups and businesses that manage and use the Levels and establish a properly resourced task force that can drive forward a fully resourced plan to bring a renaissance to the Levels.