Lessons must be learned from the severe flooding that is continuing to damage rural communities in Somerset and across the country, farm leaders have warned.

Farmers were prepared to play their part in finding solutions to avoid and manage flooding, said NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond (pictured). But the backlog of investment needed to maintain key rivers was the clear responsibility of the government and public bodies.

“Above all, the country needs to be in a position where flooding can be managed for both urban and rural communities, to minimise the disruption and devastation that is taking place in several regions, affecting our homes, rural communities, businesses and wildlife.

“We do not expect flooding to be prevented during exceptional events, but we do expect the Environment Agency to cater for events that are happening with such frequency. We have had flooding after a dry autumn, so this just goes to show how fragile our rivers are.”

Public bodies such as the Environment Agency and Internal Drainage Boards were best placed to deliver the levels of maintenance that were so desperately needed, said Mr Raymond. But they needed adequate funding to protect communities in both town and country.

“For too long there has been a widening imbalance between the defences offered to urban communities versus rural communities, which needs to be addressed. Why is more value placed on urban communities at the expense of rural communities?”

Disputing assertions made by Environment Agency chairman Lord Smith of Finsbury, who said Britain must make the “difficult choice” between protecting homes or farmland , Mr Raymond added: “It is not an overly simplistic argument of one versus the other.”

He continued: “There is grave danger in grasping for simplistic solutions. But it’s clear that dredging rivers to return them to the previous capacity levels, while not quite a panacea, has to be a very important part of solving this problem.”

Farmers recognised they could have a strong role to play in reducing flooding, said Mr Raymond. The NFU hoped the government would support this through schemes such as Catchment Sensitive Farming and giving more farmers the go-ahead to maintain watercourses where necessary.