Somerset Floods

Somerset FloodsNormally a New Year starts with something of a bang, however continuous wet weather since before Christmas has turned that into something of a damp squib.

Like much of the country, Somerset has been badly effected by flooding particularly the area now as the Somerset Levels. The Levels as they are known locally are a 650 Km2  area of land with the Eastern edge running north/south between Yeovil, Glastonbury and Wells and nestled between the Blackmore Hills to the Mendip Hills.and then westwards to the sea. The area is mainly drained marshland that historically flooded each winter restricting use to the Summer. It is thought the the name Somerset may have been derived from the “Summer Lands” which was a good description of this area. It is one reason Glastonbury became known as the Isle of Avalon towering aloft it’s winter watery surroundings

Over the years the Levels were drained for farming and grazing by improvement to water courses and the construction of artificial drainage channels with probably the best known of these being the King Sedgemoor Drain. Although the Levels continued to be subjected to flooding, the maintenance of most drainage channels ensured that floods were short-lived. Last winter and the winter so far this year has seen something of a change. Local farmers claim that budget cuts has led to less dredging of the rivers and channels by the local drainage boards while the drainage boards in turn claim the amount of dredging locals claim is needed is neither required and is unnecessarily expensive.

It’s a debacle that has been going on for some time but no one can deny whoever is right or wrong, homes, farms and roads not only continue to be more severely flooded, cut-off and isolated than ever before. While some authorities are worrying over their budgets, no mention is made of the great cost of all this in terms of flooded homes and lost production to the insurance industry and to farmers let alone additional transport costs of wide detours to circumnavigate the flooded areas. It is hard to believe that we now live in the 21st century with all its modern technology and still not agree as to the cause or even more importantly, the solution to what is rapidly becoming an annual problem. A ridgeway road (A39) that runs between Glastonbury and Bridgewater currently gives the impression to drivers of driving along a causeway surrounded by views of flooded terrain on either side.

I cannot help but notice in the extensive television news coverage of flooded areas of the country, new build housing seems to predominantly figure in the background. I would have thought that with all new housing schemes, flooding would be one of the more important aspects to be taken into account. I have no doubt there will be claims that potential flooding is taken into account in such schemes but the eyes do not belie what they see on television screens almost every evening.

May 2012

Traditionally the first of May is considered the first day of early summer. It is also considered the ‘”workers day” when many trade unions and other labour organisations around the world hold rallies and the like. Although a beautiful sunny day at the moment, my own particular world has drastically shrunken on a temporary basis due to lashing rain and howling winds lasting for two days. The consequence of this wet and windy display of natures tempest is the roads to my village are now under water from the adjacent River Yeo overflowing, thereby effectively cutting us off from civilisation. If I followed the same stance of a now famous and arrogant newspaper headline in the 1950’s which reported thick fog closed of cross channel ferries, leaving Europe cut off from Britain. I should have perhaps said the world is cut off from my village.

The local river overflowing is not however an unusual occurrence, it is something that frequently happens after prolonged rainfall causes the river to swell. The lane leading to my village is narrow with several sharp and blind bends. There is also a long dip in the lane on one of the bends where the flooding occurs. The local council once erected a depth gauge on the grass verge to assist motorists in judging the depth of the water, unfortunately the depth indicator is barely visible due to overgrown foliage and due to the bend in the lane, motorist needs to be in the deepest part of the flooded roadway before they can see it. It always reminds me of the cartoon of the sign saying danger quicksand that cannot be read until a person is already sinking in a quicksand pit.

A friend of mine long since gone told me when she was a small girl many years ago, her father who lived in a different unnamed village, would allegedly send one of her small brothers with a wooden box to a similar flooded roadway, who would then stand on the submerged box at the roadside waiting for an uninformed driver to come along. The driver on trying to decide the depth of the water would see a small boy in wellington boots with water lapping round his ankles. Having made a judgement it was safe to proceed the driver would soon find themself stranded at which time the boy would run home to inform his father of the stranded vehicle. His father would then tow the car out of the flood using his tractor for a five pound fee. I have no idea if this was a tall yarn or not but I did find it amusing at the time.

Since Roman times, local farmers relied on the river flooding as a method of fertilising their fields from deposited silt enriching their fields. Somerset is well known for the Somerset Levels, an area of land that flooded in the winter months leaving locations like Glastonbury magically arising from the waters. Hence the name “Isle” in the Isle of Avalon where Glastonbury stands. Somerset also takes its name from the lands governed from Somerton, the local ancient town which lays claim to be the one time capitol of Wessex. Somerton in turn takes it name from the Summer Lands which is how Somerset was once described.

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