A task force of Somerset farmers and conservationists has presented a united front to try to forge a better future for the area once floodwaters subside.
The Somerset Levels and Moors Task Force was established to address problems following similar floods last year. In a bid to improve local water and land management policies, the group has just published its “vision” of what the moors and levels might look like in 2030.
It paints a picture of a thriving, nature-rich wetland landscape, with grassland farming taking place on the majority of the land. By 2030, previously fragmented habitats such as fen and flower-rich meadows have been reconnected and are widely distributed.
See also: Flood-hit farmers – How you can help
Agreeing the vision was a “crucial first step” in tackling challenges faced by the levels, said task force acting-chairman Anthony Gibson. The group brings together representatives from farming, conservation, local authorities and government agencies.
Mr Gibson, a former NFU communications director, said: “We now know where we want to go, and that ought to give a very clear sense of direction – not only to the 20-year action plan for reducing the flood risk, on which we are just embarking, but all the other policies which impinge on this very special, but very threatened area.”
“For the first time, all of the organisations and interests in the levels and moors are speaking with a single voice in saying: ‘This is how we want the area to be’.”
Anthony Gibson, NFU communications director
Consensus on Somerset Levels’ future would underpin action on flooding, said Mr Gibson. “For the first time, all of the organisations and interests in the levels and moors are speaking with a single voice in saying: ‘This is how we want the area to be’.”
He added: “We all want the levels’ landscape to remain the green grid-iron of withies, rhynes, meadows and droves that we know and love; we all want it to continue to be farmed productively, but in ways that enhance the nature conservation interest.
Although at the moment much of the area remains under water, the combination of the vision and the government-backed 20-year action plan to deal with flooding was a “priceless opportunity to get things right, for the levels, its people, its farmers and its wildlife.”
Agreement on the vision has been welcomed by farming and conservation groups. NFU regional director Mel Squires said: “Farmers are at the heart of the levels’ future, and will welcome this clear, positive statement of what we are all trying to achieve.”
RSPB regional director Tony Richardson, said the vision recognised that the quality of the environment was central to a better future for local people, the economy and wildlife. “The RSPB agrees wholeheartedly and calls on others to join in a big push for this better way forward.”
The challenge now is to turn the vision into reality. It makes no specific mention of dredging watercourses – the lack of which the NFU and RSPB agree has exacerbated flooding. But dredging is seen as one of the key actions necessary to bring the vision to fruition.