After the flood: Animals and plants also need our support

A vital ecosystem is essential to the health of the lands so many depend on

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The Independent Online

For these “biblical” floods we should perhaps look to the Bible itself for an answer, or at least some inspiration. The Old Testament reminds us that care for the environment is nothing new. After all, Noah’s Ark was the answer to one legendary risk to the precious flora and fauna of the Earth; we might well reflect on what we can nowadays do to restore the balance of nature, in Somerset especially, when the floodwaters eventually subside.

As our report today demonstrates, the environmental damage to agriculture and the risk to human health will persist for some time. Quite apart from the residues of sewage left in homes and on farmland, there will also be the remains from historic metal mining in the region. The scale of the contamination should be rapidly assessed by the authorities, with a view to taking appropriate action, and to reassuring everyone that these flooded lands are fit for humans, livestock and wildlife.

It may seem flippant, even tasteless, to raise the welfare of hedgehogs, voles and bumblebees when so many people face such a threat to property, livelihoods and life itself, but it is not meant to be. A vital ecosystem is essential to the health of the lands so many depend on; without bees to pollinate crops, for example, the farmers will suffer even further in the long term. While it cannot be a priority now – indeed it is impossible to do much about anything in the waterlogged parts of the country – an audit of the damage to nature itself from these unnatural phenomena (unnatural, that is, in the sense that they are prompted by climate change) will be essential in the coming months. The authorities still have much to do.

But which authorities? Although central Government, the Army, local councils and the Environment Agency made their best efforts to work together, we should consider the establishment of an overarching national disaster authority, on the US model, with practically unlimited funds and powers with which to act. We are being told we need to provide for better physical defences against extreme weather; we need improved organisation and leadership for such emergencies too. Just like in Noah’s time.