A partnership fund to help save the Somerset Levels from flooding has been launched to bridge a £2m gap in financial support needed for essential river maintenance works.

Led by the Royal Bath and West of England Society and Glastonbury Festival founder and farmer Michael Eavis, the fund will help raise money to finance vital dredging work on the Tone and Parrett rivers.

A lack of river maintenance has been blamed for widespread flooding that saw much of the Somerset Levels under water for 12 months starting in April last year. On the Curry and North Moors alone, the cost to farmers and local businesses is estimated to be £10m.

Dairy farmer Anthony Gothard, who hosted the launch at his farm in Stoke St Gregory, said his business had racked up hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of debt after half of his land flooded.

However, despite recognition that dredging would be worthwhile, the government has said the £3.1m of work needed does not meet funding criteria. So far, DEFRA has pledged £300,000 of aid, bringing total existing funds to about £1m.

After seeing the “jaw dropping” effect of the flooding, Edwin White, chairman of the Royal Bath and West of England Society’s Agricultural Policy Group, said the society wanted to see how they could help bridge the funding gap.

“When we discovered there wasn’t enough money, we said let’s self-help and embarrass the government into match-funding what we raise.”

Mr Eavis, who runs a dairy farm on the edge of the Levels, said current maintenance in the area was “an absolute shambles” and dredging work was crucial to restore grassland productivity as well as the romantic view of the moorlands.

As administrator for the fund, the Bath and West Society aims to secure money from organisations with existing corporate responsibility funds. The aim is to raise £1-2m by the end of the year to ensure dredging gets under way in the spring.

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