Storm fears mean sandbags again on the Somerset Levels

Residents have not been in their flooded homes for months – now more bad weather is forecast

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You could forgive Bryony Sadler for keeping a closer than usual eye on the weather this weekend. Her once-picturesque home on the Somerset Levels spent three weeks under water during the winter storms. It became a breakwater against a surge of flood water and her family hasn’t spent a night at home since February.

Summer high tides and the potential arrival of the remnants of tropical storm Bertha this weekend won’t produce anything like that volume of water, but the Environment Agency in Somerset is taking no chances this weekend, with teams laying sandbags and making inspections.

Six months ago Mrs Sadler was one of the 80 homeowners evacuated by emergency services as the River Parrett burst its banks in the early hours of February 7, overwhelming temporary flood defences and leaving 80 homes underwater.

“It’s been a living hell. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. We’ve only just started work on our house after battles with the insurance company,” said Mrs Sadler, who worked as a mobile hairdresser before she and most of her clients decamped to temporary housing elsewhere in the county. “There is no community here now. Of course it will return, but so few people are back in their homes, the village feels empty other than builders’ vans”.

Local Conservative MP Ian Liddell-Grainger agrees. “Life is very far from perfect in the village, with work still going on and the vast majority of people still staying in temporary accommodation,” he said. “What’s amazing, though, is that the surrounding countryside has returned to its beauty as a little backwater of England, it’s just that you see people in caravans at night instead of their homes, so that’s a little spooky.”

Working with the local authorities, the Environment Agency has drawn up a 20-year flood action plan for the Levels, while short-term measures include the dredging of the rivers Parrett and Tone by October, increasing capacity so that water is more easily moved off the land.

 

Campaigners at the Flooding on the Levels Action Group want the Government to go further and invest in a barrage or sluice to prevent a deluge of water from the Bristol Channel at high tide. The Government says a report on the sluice is due to be completed in September.

Despite action being taken, life is still tough for many locals, with the knock-on effects to tourism being particularly tough; some firms report summer trade down by as much as 25 per cent.

For farmer Geoff Miller the consequences of the winter floods will be felt for years to come on his 250-acre cattle farm: “I’m still putting the pieces back together after having my animals off the farm and my fields under water for three months.”

He was forced to sell 20 cattle out of his 88-head herd, and faces “up to five years” of financial troubles as he struggles with reduced returns at market and less-productive grazing land.  He expects the total cost to be “close to £30,000” this year alone.

He added: “If it hadn’t been for the support from local volunteers, farmers and also farmers across the country donating animal feed, I’d have packed it in long ago.”

Environment Secretary, Elizabeth Truss, said: “Ensuring the area is well protected is a very high priority. I saw for myself that the dredging of the Parrett and Tone is on track, and we are looking at further measures to better protect against any future flooding.”

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