Dam saves retired naval officer from another soaking

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The Independent Online

Douglas Billington, a retired naval officer became so accustomed to the floods which invaded his home every year that he had a rowing boat permanently moored in the living room.

Douglas Billington, a retired naval officer became so accustomed to the floods which invaded his home every year that he had a rowing boat permanently moored in the living room.

Yesterday, however, as the surrounding area was engulfed by the worst floods in four decades, the former lieutenant-commander was enjoying a reprieve for the first time in seven years.

Fed up with the regular flooding, Mr Billington, aged 73, spent three years building a 400-metre flood barrier - a clay bank, two metres high - around his two-acre plot.

Yesterday he was celebrating its success. "I was sureit was going to work, but this is the first real test it has had," he said.

"It's worked perfectly. There is not a drop of water in here but we are surrounded by it for miles around. Now I can move back downstairs and start decorating."

Mr Billington and his wife Suzette, also 73, live in one of the country's most flood-prone areas near the river Tone on the waterlogged Somerset Levels.

The day he signed the contract on Turkey Cottage at Stoke St Gregory, near Taunton, in March 1994, the property flooded and it has continued to do so annually. Last year, 1998 and 1995 were particularly bad years, with the cottage flooded by up to nine inches of water.

Eventually, the family was forced to abandon the ground floor and move everything including the kitchen upstairs.

A wartime officer with a distinguished record, Mr Billington refused to cede to nature.

"Floods drove the last owners out but we were determined to stay put," he said.

"It'll take more than a bit of water to shift us and being surrounded by water makes me feel quite at home, actually.

"The flood water stretches for a mile with only our house and outbuildings stick out. We are quite isolated. But it is a perfect spot here, and beautiful in the summer "

Three years ago, he enlisted the help of a friend and property developer who was building houses in nearby Bishop's Lydeard. The site needed extensive excavation of solid clay - which was transported to Mr Billington's cottage and built up around his land.

The 400-metre ring was completed during the summer - and passed its first real test this week.

It held strong as the river Tone burst its banks and Taunton and the surrounding area suffered their worst flooding for 40 years.

"The defences seem to be holding so far and I just hope they stand up to the water until it subsides," Mr Billington said.

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