Addressing flooding on the Somerset Levels


Further information on the Environment Agency's response to flooding in Somerset

The flooding on the Somerset Levels is the result of prolonged and persistent rainfall, with the area seeing more than twice the average rainfall for this time of year. Up to 40 properties and 65 square kilometres of land have unfortunately flooded. However, flood defences have protected over 200 square kilometres of land and 3,500 properties, including in the towns of Langport, Martock, Ilchester and Ham.

The Environment Agency is doing everything it can to pump water off the Somerset Levels as quickly as river and tide levels allow. Teams have been working around the clock since Christmas and extra manpower and pumping equipment has been brought in from around the country. Sixty-five pumps are now working around the clock. This is the single largest pumping operation ever undertaken in Somerset.

The role of dredging

Nationally, the Environment Agency spent £45 million in the last financial year on improving rivers, including dredging and weed clearance. In Somerset, de-silting work was last carried out on pinch points on the Parrett and Tone rivers in November.

Whilst dredging would provide some benefit to managing future flood risk on the Somerset Levels and Moors, it is not always the best long-term or economic solution compared with other flood risk measures such as building walls or providing storage upstream.

Increased dredging of rivers on the Somerset Levels would not have prevented the recent widespread flooding because of the sheer volume of rainfall. On tidal stretches of rivers, silt immediately begins to return to the river following dredging. Where dredging increases river flows, it can also make flooding worse downstream.

The Environment Agency will now be working with Government, the local council, Internal Drainage Boards and other partners on a long-term action-plan for tackling flood risk on the Somerset Moors and Levels.

History of flooding on the Somerset Levels

Around 635 square kilometres of Somerset is below sea level. The recent widespread flooding of the Somerset Levels and Moors is just one in a long record of flood events.

In 1919 historical records show that 280 square kilometres of the Levels and Moors were flooded. This widespread flooding was before many of our flood defences and raised embankments were constructed.  In comparison today only 65 square kilometers is flooded.

The ancient tidal marshes of Somerset were gradually reclaimed through the activities of the Abbots and Bishops as far back as 1,000 years ago.

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