UK weather: Fury rises with the flood waters causing havoc and evacuations across Britain

More than 5,000 properties affected in past two months, with 150 flood warnings still in place as misplaced subsidies, cost-cutting and official complacency blamed for exacerbating problem

Apart from the occasional hedgerow poking above murky waters, and an isolated farmhouse standing in defiance of the floods, there is little to suggest that large tracts of Somerset contain anything but lakes. The farmland, villages and rural roads are submerged, and the waters are still rising. So is the rage.

Gill Slattery, a local councillor, spoke for many when she said: “It’s hard to imagine how those poor people of Moorland will have felt as they saw the flood water creep up bit by bit into their homes. People are suffering from psychological trauma and sleepless nights, so it’s no surprise they are getting angry.”

Yet life here is only about to get harder. The chaos and anguish in Somerset, caused by weather that has produced the wettest January and February in England and Wales for 130 years, shows no sign of abating this weekend.

Nationwide, around 5,000 homes have been affected by the flooding, including 40 in Somerset, where a further 80 homes were evacuated overnight in anticipation of a renewed rise in water levels as fresh storms batter the south coast.

Last night there were two severe flood warnings – meaning “danger to life” – in the Somerset Levels, with a further 150 flood warnings and 300 flood alerts in England and Wales.

Flooding also hit parts of Surrey, London, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Kent yesterday, where the village of Bridge, near Canterbury, was inundated for the second time in a week, causing spring water and sewage to seep up through floorboards.

Royal Marines and soldiers were deployed to help with sandbagging in Essex and the Somerset Levels, where police arrested three men overnight suspected of looting heating oil from evacuated homes.

Rail engineers were also trying to shore up damaged infrastructure, in particular the embankment at Dawlish in Devon, where work was being undertaken to prevent a further collapse of the sea wall carrying the main west coast line into Cornwall.

The Somerset Levels are a unique environment – even locals will admit they are prone to flooding. Yet as the repair and resistance work continued, experts said last night that Britain was paying the price for a catalogue of failures to manage the built and natural environment, to reduce the effects of flooding considered inevitable in the face of climate change and the intensive use of land in both town and country.

Fiona Howie, head of planning for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “We must expect to experience warmer, wetter winters, so it is not sufficient to dismiss flooding as the natural order of things. The Environment Agency and the Government need to develop a coherent national approach to dealing with this crisis.”

Rob Cunningham, head of water policy at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: “There is a wealth of evidence that our soils are in a terrible state. They are heavily compacted, which means water just pours off.”

The effects of the single farm payment, an EU subsidy which encourages the clearance of vegetation from river banks, has also exacerbated the run-off of water from the hills. This is in stark contrast to advice that more needs to be done to trap water at higher levels as well as dredging rivers on lower ground, a key factor in the Somerset flooding.

Bob Ward, policy director at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Institute, which studies the impact of climate change, criticised the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson for failing to secure the necessary investment in flood protection.

He said: “Much of the debate has focused on the perceived shortcomings of the Environment Agency but a more important issue is why the Environment Secretary is failing to make the country more resilient to the risk of flooding made worse by global warming.”

Building in areas at high risk of flooding, which rose last year as a result of pressure to provide new housing, has also been highlighted as an example of flood prevention policy going backwards. It emerged last week that local authorities in England and Wales allowed 87 developments – comprising 560 homes – to proceed in the last year despite advice from the Environment Agency (EA) that they were in areas at high risk of flooding.

David Cameron promised last night to do “everything that can be done” to help Somerset as he toured swamped sites and met families forced by record water levels to abandon their homes.

After arriving by helicopter for a hastily arranged visit to the county, Mr Cameron said: “It’s a biblical scene. The scale of it here in Somerset is immense. Clearly people here have faced a very tough time and continue to face a tough time, and that’s why we have got to do everything we can to help.”

He repeated criticism of the EA – whose chairman Lord Smith of Finsbury visited Somerset yesterday for the first time since the crisis began – for stopping dredging rivers in the 1990s.

Lord Smith is due to retire in the summer. His departure will be welcomed by Government figures as an opportunity to give fresh direction to the EA. But while ministerial sources acknowledged there had been “some disgruntlement” with his performance, they said there was little pressure for him to step down before his term ends in July.

Another Whitehall source said the Government was broadly happy with the EA’s response to this winter’s unprecedented weather conditions. He said: “Chris Smith believes it is coming under unfair attack. That is why he went to Somerset.”

Privately, however, ministers admitted last night that they had been slow to respond to the scale of the damage in the West Country. One said: “This hasn’t been our finest hour – there’s no disguising that. It comes to something when the Prince of Wales is more sympathetic to the public mood.”

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home