Farmers attempting to recover from devastating flooding on the Somerset Levels are furious at council plans to spend £600,000 on consultants instead of dredging rivers.

Somerset County Council won the EU grant to help farmers after nine months of flooding, with match funding provided by Natural England and other partners.

But while council officer Paula Hewitt said she was delighted with the outcome, farmers were less than impressed with how the money is to be spent. With the help of FWAG, Natural England, the RSPB and Somerset Wildlife Trust, the Value of Working Wetlands project will employ liaison officers to work alongside farmers, and help provide practical solutions to land management problems.

“This could be through helping to deal with waterlogged fields, arranging specialist contractors and planning early field operations around nesting birds,” said Natural England’s James Diamond.

But Jane Pine, whose family milk more than 300 cows at Meare Green Farm, Stoke St Gregory, said farmers in the area would far rather the money was put towards dredging the rivers to prevent further flooding in the future. “It’s an absolute joke – how can they justify spending money on desk jobs when £600,000 would pay for a third of the dredging costs?”

“It’s an absolute joke – how can they justify spending money on desk jobs when £600,000 would pay for a third of the dredging costs?”
Jane Pine

With the family’s livestock having to be housed since October 2011, they have had to sell most of their youngstock, as well as buy in expensive extra feed. “There’s hardly any grass growing on 150 acres – we tried to re-seed last year but it was washed away,” said Mrs Pine.

Much of the land was in the higher level stewardship scheme, she added. “Why not give help with re-seeding costs? Most of the farmers here have been farming the Levels for generations – they don’t need consultants to tell them how to cope with waterlogged land.”

However, a spokesman for Natural England said: “This isn’t about telling farmers how to manage their land; it’s about providing additional help to support the recovery of the area. This initiative could result in further funding being made available, which could potentially be spent on the cost of buying seed or in carrying out river maintenance.”

Farmers could also access grant funding through the catchment sensitive farming scheme before the deadline of 30 April, he added.

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