DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson has pledged to come up with a clear plan on how to tackle severe flooding in parts of the West Country.

The minister made the promise during a visit to the worst-hit areas on the Somerset levels on Monday 27 January.

He was greeted with a frosty reception from crowds of farmers and villagers, many of whose land has been flooded for more than a month .

Mr Paterson promised them he would organise meetings with MPs, residents and experts to come up with a clear plan to end the misery.

But locals were adamant that the problem was already clear and lay in a lack of river dredging to help water on the land on the Levels drain away.

Mr Paterson was handed a 4,000-signature petition calling for government investment in a dredging programme.

Video: Flood hit farmer speaks out

Speaking ahead of the ministerial visit a spokesman for the Stop The Floods Campaign said the Environment Agency remained the biggest single obstacle to a solution for Somerset.

“We hope Mr Paterson will provide financial support to those suffering from the floods, to clean up and rebuild lives. But that is dealing with the effect,” the spokesman said.

“Unless the minister deals with the cause we will be throwing good money after bad. The simple fact is that to dredge the river in 2011 would have cost less than £4 million.

“Because the EA refused, the clean-up bill over the last 18 months and into the next couple will amount to in excess of £5 million,” the spokesman said in an article in the Western Daily Press.

“We ask the Secretary of State to listen to people who know about these rivers. We ask him to understand the Levels

“We remind him that the EA has not only failed to protect the human population at great cost, but has also proved inept at looking after the wildlife populations of the region too,” he added.