Anyone who cares about river flooding should be concerned about the Environment Agency’s reported plan (13 January), to cut back even further on lock-keepers and other staff with direct local knowledge of our rivers.
For 20 years we have lived next to a lock on the Thames and in times of floods have repeatedly seen the close co-ordination between lock-keepers working the weirs along their reach, helping each other to manhandle malfunctioning gates and calling in the boat crews to remove trees and boats blocking flow. It’s sobering to see the benefits of extensive dredging or clearing of channels quickly undone by a simple boat or tree blocking a weir.
It is hard to understand how the further reduction of experience, local knowledge and close personal relations will improve flood control. Neither a regional lock-keeper responsible for several locks nor a firm contracted to manage several sites – both ideas under consideration – will have the knowledge or, crucially, the commitment to “their” reach and community to do what it takes, even if the road conditions allow them to make their rounds.
According to the data kindly provided by the EA’s website, in both the 2007 and January 2014 floods, the local staff took emergency steps which resulted in the quick lowering of the river at and below Oxford.
The EA may be able to automate some of what a lock-keeper does on a sunny day but not what he and his mates do in the middle of a rainy night to temporarily rectify some remote manager’s cock-up.
No matter how much the EA runs down its river staff, a country with so many rivers is going to need a range of river-specific skills. The EA, in conjunction with river users and related businesses, instead ought to be ensuring that training, apprenticeships and qualifications are available so that these skills are preserved. A period of global warming is hardly the time to run down river-related staff, or to disregard the experience of the few who remain.
I write to express my deep concern about the mismanagement of the Somerset Levels by the Environment Agency. This has resulted in the worst floods that the region has experienced in living memory.
We were told last winter that it was a once-in-a-hundred-years event. So why are we experiencing a sombre sense of déjà vu? For two years running valuable agricultural land is unusable, homes and businesses are flooded, a large proportion of the road network is impassable and the community here are feeling increasingly beleaguered, abandoned and frustrated.
The crux of the problem is the River Parrett. This river, along with the Tone, Axe and Brue, takes all of the water from Somerset out to sea. Since the disbandment of the National Rivers Authority there has been little or no work maintaining this essential infrastructure.
The answer to this problem is clear: admit fault, dredge the river and consult with local farmers and landowners who have the knowledge and experience to help. We did not have this problem when the rivers were dredged.
R Horsington Graham
Rivers “burst their banks” for the sake of alliteration (letter, 10 January). What I don’t understand is why we “burst into tears”. Tears come out of watery eyes. Is it possible to burst “into” anything?
Secrets of the Presidental allure
Why does Yasmin Alibhai-Brown make herself appear so shallow in posing the question, “How does a man who has so few obvious physical attributes become such an object of passionate desire?”, to François Hollande?
She sees a “dull, bespectacled, balding bloke”. But why does she not acknowledge that France’s President may also be intelligent, kind and caring, and that this may be why he is apparently attractive to women. Does he have to be a “demon lover”, or use “new face products”? Surely the professionally brilliant women in his life would see through such a façade in an instant.
Publish a similar article with reversed gender stereotypes, and await the inevitable, and justified, storm of protest!
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Sweeteners for fracking
The effort being put into promoting fracking is yet another example of how the Government can be so easily bamboozled into believing that sourcing energy from fossil fuels is the simple answer to their prayers in aid of keeping the lights on.
The reality is that fracking will lay waste to vast tracts of land and if energy is extracted successfully not only will it not lower our fuel bills by one penny, it will greatly increase our carbon emissions in the longer term.
Although ministers will argue that green energy sources are being researched and promoted, the emphasis being placed on fossil fuel sources, and of late fracking in particular, far outweighs everything else and has stultified any potential strategic initiatives on how the long-term energy needs of the country might be met.
The Government now wants to sweet-talk local communities into allowing fracking in their areas. The extent of each well is said to be just two hectares. No mention is made of the access roads.
The Wall Street analyst Deborah Rodgers says that in 2012 Texas received $3.6bn in revenue from on- and off-shore operations, but is expected to need $4bn to repair road damage caused by on-shore extraction alone. Arkansas has received since 2009 $182m and needs $450m to be spent on roads. Pennsylvania in 2012 received $1.3bn and is estimated to need $7bn for repairs. These are knowns which the Government does not want us to know.
Canon Christopher Hall
It is the blandness of the Government’s fracking bribes to communities that staggers me most. Offering communities the right to keep 100 per cent of the business rates paid by licensed exploiters, in exchange for the pillaging of people’s lives and landscapes, lacks any moral compass.
Our addiction to fossil fuels has to be broken, not nurtured. It damages the present and scars the future, in ways our children will pay heavily for.
Child benefit for EU migrants
In the light of the proposals to restrict the right of EU migrants to send child benefit to their home countries, I am reminded of what happened in Germany in the 1970s.
As the recession bit, the government there wished to encourage its non-EU labour migrants, mainly from Turkey, Yugoslavia and southern Europe, to return home. A policy was introduced to pay child benefit only for the children of migrants living with them in Germany.
One consequence was that many migrants brought their families over to join them.
Professor John Salt
Migration Research Unit
Department of Geography
University College London
Healthy demand for physiotherapists
Nigel Farage’s entertaining account of his physiotherapy (13 January) unfortunately included a misleading statement about the employment prospects for new members of the profession.
For a brief time in the last decade there was a shortage of jobs, but with rising patient demand from an ageing population and increasing numbers of people with long-term conditions, this was urgently addressed. Following extensive campaigning by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, the employment record for new graduates is now very good.
In recent years the employment opportunities for physiotherapists have continued to expand in the NHS and in the private and voluntary sectors. This reflects – as Mr Farage’s piece showed – that physiotherapists are playing a key role in getting people back to work and in many cases, preventing the need for any sickness absence in the first place.
We wish him well in his recovery.
Chartered Society of Physiotherapy
Stay awake at the back of the class
Thank you for Peter Gray’s excellent piece (13 January) arguing that children need less school, less homework, and more time for unstructured play, in order to grow up psychologically healthy and creative.
For headteachers worried that such an approach would ruin their test scores and prejudice their position in the league tables, the solution is reported elsewhere in the same edition: give every child a double espresso at the end of each lesson. It will boost their memory for what they have learned (and keep them awake in the next lesson).