Somerset Flood Spending ‘Driven by Politics’

November 27 2014

Somerset flood spending ‘driven by politics’.  By Roger Harrabin, BBC environment analyst.

It’s nearly a year since TV screens were filled with furious locals protesting at the failure to drain the Somerset Levels. They enlisted the outspoken support of their MP, stirred a political crisis, and got local flood management priorities overturned. At the time, some warned that the Levels had attracted disproportionate attention as more populous areas of the country also faced floods.

Now the authors of a Royal Society report on resilience to extreme weather have told BBC News that they believe the campaign to protect the Levels prompted politics to override science. They say those resident on the Levels may have to get used to living with floods, and they question whether investment to protect farmland is the best use of public money.

Some local farmers have reacted angrily, saying the academics fail to understand the complex geography of the Levels, and arguing that the water management system installed in the 1960s should be maintained.

But experts said that in a world of climate change, people must reconsider previous expectations for managing land. The two flood experts on the Royal Society resilience report were asked by BBC News how global lessons might be applied to Somerset.

One, Prof Paul Bates from Bristol University, said: “There was completely disproportionate attention on the Somerset Levels. About 150 homes were flooded compared with 6-10,000 nationwide. Local farmers lobbied very effectively, seized the agenda and got the Environment Agency to overturn its policy of not dredging.

“But the agency’s policy was the right one. This is a massive seasonally-flooded wetland and dredging would have made only a marginal difference. It could even make matters worse if it shunts the water somewhere else.

UK storms of 2008 Climate change means we must get used to more extreme weather, scientists argue

“There’s huge demand for flood protection in the UK. It’s not cost-effective to use public money protecting agricultural land.

A co-author, Prof Rob Nicholls from Southampton University, said: “The flooding of the Levels looked impressive – but most of the area flooded was agricultural land. You would be better investing in protection for London, Portsmouth or Hull where there are many more people facing recurring problems.

“People think, hey – I’ve got a right not to be flooded. But we can’t afford to think like that. Some places you need to learn to live with water, accept mentally that it will flood… or just pull out.” The approach of the Royal Society experts was endorsed by Prof Georgina Mace, of University College London, the Royal Society lead author.

But their comments have provoked understandable anger in Somerset. One farmer, James Winslade told me: “These so-called experts haven’t got a clue what they are talking about. We are used to being flooded – but we don’t expect to get ignored for so long.”

I visited the Levels with another farmer, Heather Venn. She told me: “This part of the river has been dredged and they’ve put the silt on to the side of the bank. It’s made a difference already.  “We certainly haven’t gone underwater yet with all the rain we’ve had and I know we won’t over the next couple of months… because there’s a General Election coming up and the pumping’s going to happen.”

Ms Venn did eight interviews in a day at the height of the media storm over the Levels. She insists that locals gained public sympathy because it was clear they could have been helped with simple dredging. Some of their land was underwater so long, she said, that the grass had become a crust of sludge. “If this system had been maintained at its design level in the sixties we wouldn’t have had the devastation – and that’s why the media were in here,” she said.

Prof Bates countered: “All flooding is avoidable – just at what cost?” He says people have become attached to a landscape created when the UK was on a drive to increase farm output. A re-think was needed at a time of climate change and reduced government spending, he said.

Ms Venn said dredging had a large effect for a small input. She said people did not realise if the Levels were not protected, then the towns of Bridgwater and Taunton would become more vulnerable to floods.

An Environment Agency spokesman said the towns could be protected independently from the Levels. He said it has cost an extra £10m to dredge the rivers and improve local defences, which prior to the floods were further down the queue of national priorities. He said Somerset was towards the bottom of the list of counties in the South-West based on the number of homes flooded last winter. Around 180 homes were inundated in Somerset (about 150 in the Levels), compared with more than 400 in Wiltshire.

But governments of course, are swayed by politics. A Defra spokesperson told us: “Last winter was the wettest in 200 years, which took its toll on flood-prone communities such as Somerset. That’s why we provided additional funding to dredge the rivers Parrett and Tone – this will help the water levels reduce quicker in the event of another flood.

“It is vital that we protect people and property from flooding, including farmland, which is the backbone to our food and farming industry – and worth £97bn to the economy.”

The academics say politicians around the world need to look at flooding issue in the round: farmers with upland fields must slow the flow of water from their land and maybe change the crops they farm. They recommend that farmers also stop allowing fertilisers to run into ditches and stimulating the growth of clogging weeds.

And the report authors say local authorities should stop granting permission for homes on flood plains – especially bungalows; homes that have been flooded should be built back with concrete floors and raised electricity points.

They also suggest people will have to accept that they may be flooded in exceptional circumstances. These changes are an academic’s wish-list. Whether they are deliverable in a world of politics is a different matter.

Clothing, Oh Dear, What Shall I Wear!


Environmental impacts of different fabrics have different impacts, depending on what they’re made of:

Nylon and polyester.

Made from petrochemicals, these synthetics are non-biodegradable as well, so they are inherently unsustainable on two counts. Nylon manufacture creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Making polyester uses large amounts of water for cooling, along with lubricants which can become a source of contamination. Both processes are also very energy-hungry.

Rayon (viscose).

This is another artificial fibre, made from wood pulp, which on the face of it seems more sustainable. However, old growth forest is often cleared and/or subsistence farmers are displaced to make way for pulpwood plantations. Often the tree planted is eucalyptus, which draws up phenomenal amounts of water, causing problems in sensitive regions. To make rayon, the wood pulp is treated with hazardous chemicals such as caustic soda and sulphuric acid.


Natural fibres have their problems, too. Cotton is the most pesticide intensive crop in the world: these pesticides injure and kill many people every year. It also takes up a large proportion of agricultural land, much of which is needed by local people to grow their own food. Herbicides, and also the chemical defoliants which are sometimes used to aid mechanical cotton harvesting, add to the toll on both the environment and human health. These chemicals typically remain in the fabric after finishing, and are released during the lifetime of the garments. The development of genetically modified cotton adds environmental problems at another level. Organic cotton is quite another matter.


Both agricultural and craft workers in the UK suffer from exposure to organophosphate sheep dip.

Manufacturing processes:

Getting from fibre to cloth – bleaching, dyeing, and finishing – uses yet more energy and water, and causes yet more pollution.

◾Dyeing alone can account for most of the water used in producing a garment; unfixed dye then often washes out of garments, and can end up colouring the rivers, as treatment plants fail to remove them from the water. Dye fixatives – often heavy metals – also end up in sewers and then rivers.

◾Cloth is often bleached using dioxin-producing chlorine compounds.

◾And virtually all poly-cotton (especially bed linen), plus all ‘easy care’, ‘crease resistant’, ‘permanent press’ cotton, are treated with toxic formaldehyde (also used for flame-proofing nylon).


Other materials used in clothing and shoes include:

◾Leather, with polluting tanning and dyeing processes, as well as intensive farming impacts and animal rights issues.

◾PVC – a notoriously toxic material.

◾Harmful solvents – used e.g. in glues and to stick plastic coatings to some waterproof fabrics.


More sustainable fabrics:

While there are serious environmental impacts associated with many fabrics there are some whose impact is much less.

Organic cotton.

Wear Organic is a project s a campaign run by the Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK). It aims to reduce the problems caused by pesticides used particularly in cotton and promotes organic and fair trade alternatives. It provides information for consumers on the environmental impacts of fabric production.  Organic cotton garments are likely to be free from chlorine bleaches and synthetic dyes.


Is a thoroughly ecological crop: highly productive, easy to cultivate and pest tolerant, so needing few or no agrochemicals whilst at the same time binding and enriching the soil with its deep roots. It is a traditional fibre, that went out of favour in the 1930s for political reasons, rather than practical ones. It is now at long last undergoing something of a revival.


Is the latest plant material to hit the eco-friendly fabrics market. It is described as hypoallergenic, absorbent, fast-drying and naturally anti-bacterial and comes from a very fast-growing plant. It’s not all good though, there are some concerns over the chemicals used in its processing, however less pesticides and fertilisers are used, and it is still a sustainable choice compared to most other fabrics.  Bam Bamboo Clothing is a UK manufacturer specialising in bamboo clothing but increasingly other clothing suppliers are stocking bamboo fabric goods.


Is made from flax, another traditional fibre crop which needs few chemical fertilisers, and less pesticide than cotton.

Organic wool.

Increasingly becoming available: it is produced using sustainable farming practises and without toxic sheep dips. Cornish Organic Wool source organic wool from local farmers who are Soil Association accredited or certified with Organic Farmers & Growers Ltd (OF&G). They supply knitting kits and spun wool.

Recycled polyester.

Look out for full-on, hi-tech fleece jackets made from recycled drinks bottles, e.g. some outdoor fleece products by Patagonia. (Patagonia also offer a recycling service for their Capilene base layers, via their Common Threads garment recycling scheme.) Outdoor gear company VauDe’s Ecolog range is both recycled and fully recyclable – everything, down to the zips and buttons, is 100% polyester. VauDe established the Ecolog Recycling Network for complete recycling of pure polyester materials in 1996.

Even some hi-tech waterproofs can potentially be recycled – if facilities exist. These include water-based coatings (applied without harmful solvents) and membranes such as Sympatex, which is 100% polyester. Avoid PVC, laminates and polyurethane.

The Difference in how Cats and Dogs Drink

Physicists solve mystery of why cats rule, dogs drool.

Mon Nov 24, 2014.

Popular web videos showing that “cats rule and dogs drool” have new scientific evidence to support that felinophilic sentiment, at least when it comes to drinking.

While cats expertly manipulate water to quench thirst neatly, dogs smash, slosh, spill, and splash their way, according to research unveiled on Monday.

The latest findings, which focus on dogs and were presented at a meeting in San Francisco of the American Physical Society, build on an earlier discovery of how cats drink. Neither cats nor dogs can close their cheeks tightly enough to create suction, as humans do, so exactly how they manage had been a puzzle.

In 2010, engineers at Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among other schools, discovered how cats lap water. Basically, felines touch their tongue to the water’s surface without penetrating it, and pull up a column of liquid at a speed of 3 feet (1 meter) per second. Just before gravity pulls the water down, cats slam their mouth shut over the top of the column four times per second, swallow, and repeat.

When the dog study started, the scientists thought dogs would turn out to drink similarly to cats, said biomechanical engineer Sunny Jung of Virginia Tech, a member of the cat team who also led the dog research. Not so.

For one thing, cats’ tongues gently touch the water surface, but dogs’ smash through it, as cameras under a water trough showed. Dogs “make lots of splashing, but a cat never does,” Jung said. Also, cats pull up their tongue to create the water column with a force up to twice that of gravity. Dogs create a force up to eight times gravity.

Finally, although only the tip of a cat’s tongue touches the water, a large area of the dog’s does, making them sloppy drinkers. More precisely, the volume of water a dog’s tongue can move increases exponentially with body size. Which is why Saint Bernards, but not dachshunds, turn kitchen floors into lakes.


Week Ending November 22nd.

Monday, November 17th.  A drab, wet sort of a day which was cooler than of late.  Spent a morning checking ponies on Chailey Common and taking up electric fencing on top of the misty Downs at the NT’s Blackcap – rather damp by the time I’d finished.

Tuesday, November 18th.  Early (for me!) 7am start!  Took the three spare ponies down to Frances Bottom near Beachy Head.  The rough-legged buzzard still performing at Jevington to an appreciative audience.  During the afternoon, wet inland but a different day along the coast with gorgeous colours and contrasts towards sunset.  Over in the Cuckmere valley, a group of birders were closely watching Charlston Reedbed in the afternoon after a great grey shrike had been spotted.  (A clouded yellow butterfly was seen flying today, at Canvey Island in Essex).

Saturday, November 22nd.  A further five ponies arrived at Lullington Heath today from Exmoor bringing our Herd 2 back up to full strength of 18 ponies after removing 12 ponies for the new Herd 5 on Beachy Head.  Hogweed, wild parsnip and greater knapweed still in flower.

Call for A27 Dual-Carriageway v National Park

A27 group calls for dual carriageway between Polegate and Lewes.

Sussex Express, 03 November 2014.

A new dual carriageway would offer the ‘most effective way’ of improving the A27, according to a reference group. The first meeting of the East Sussex A27 reference group met on Thursday (October 23) bringing together MPs and council leaders who want to see significant improvements to the A27 between Lewes and Polegate.

The meeting, chaired by Kemptown and Peacehaven MP Simon Kirby, agreed an offline dual carriageway between Lewes and Polegate would offer the most effective way of improving journey times, reliability and safety. The group also recognised the economic benefits for employment space and housing that an improved A27 would bring.

The reference group was formed to make the case for this part of the A27 while the Highways Agency and the Department for Transport, undertake a feasibility study looking at various options for improving the road. Simon Kirby MP said: “I am pleased to be able to bring together this group to ensure this section of the A27 is at the top of the Government’s agenda for improvement.”

Cllr Keith Glazier, leader of East Sussex County Council, said: “We need the A27 between Lewes and Polegate to be fit for purpose. It is an important part of the strategic road network that has been neglected. Our businesses tell us that significant improvements will support inward investment and will attract new employees. We believe a new dual carriageway will help businesses, residents and visitors move along this vital east-west coastal route.”

The group agreed to ensure the Chancellor of the Exchequer is clear on the benefits of a new dual carriageway and will be ensuring ministers in the Department for Transport and Department for Business Innovation and Skills are aware of just how important this road is.

All of those present agreed with the need for a dual carriageway with the exception of Cllr Rosalyn St Pierre, representing Norman Baker’s [LibDem MP for Lewes] opinion that minor improvements to the existing road would be preferable.

Last week, Transport Minister John Hayes MP visited Lewes to travel along the A27 between Polegate and Lewes by bus to experience the road. He was asked to visit by Conservative parliamentary candidate for Lewes, Maria Caulfield and Conservative candidate for Eastbourne Caroline Ansell, who are campaigning to have the road upgraded. In a joint statement, Ms Caulfield and Ms Ansell said: “When the Minister is briefed and receives evidence on the six national road schemes, we want him to have very clearly in his mind the experience of travelling the A27.”


Do we want A27 upgrade to trash our countryside?

Saturday 15 November 2014.

Open letter from Georgia Wrighton Director, Campaign to Protect Rural England (Sussex), Blackboys, Uckfield, East Sussex.

“One could be forgiven for thinking the ‘only game in town’ for addressing improvements on the A27 east of Lewes is a major new dual carriageway carving a scar through unspoilt Low Weald countryside and devastating views from the South Downs National Park.

And what of the Long Man of Wilmington? If lobbyists have their way, the new road could be a mile from the ancient monument, pictured, and visible and audible from it. Some would have us believe that we need to swallow the ‘bitter pill’ of new road infrastructure emerging out of government A27 feasibility workshops. It is the brave way forward for economic health in the area, we are told, and we need to grasp the nettle or be branded as NIMBYs.

It became apparent to the 100 people who attended a Campaign to Protect Rural England (Sussex) public meeting in Polegate on Saturday, November 8, that plans for damaging new roads west of Polegate are on the table without convincing economic evidence or traffic data to back them up.

Local people were wondering how such a devastating blow to the countryside could be hurled at an unsuspecting public.

Traffic on the A27 between Polegate and Lewes has not increased in 10 years. Instead there has been increasing use of the rail service, and access could be improved to meet demand. A public information sign posted on the A27 outside Lewes reminds us of the direct rail link between Lewes and Eastbourne. Surely we need to get the best out of the perfectly good rail link we have already got.

Is it good housekeeping to throw hundreds of millions of pounds at a ‘road to nowhere’? Whose interests will this serve?

Our public meeting learnt how safety and accident concerns on the A27 could be addressed by junction improvements already planned, except that the fate of those improvements was flung out of the equation and not sexy enough to qualify as grand political gestures postured at ‘solving the problem’. Neither was investment in rail such as Willingdon chord a charming enough proposition to satisfy those baying for tarmac and concrete across our precious countryside.

Local people learnt of protests that same day against bus service cuts in East Sussex, when surely investment in public transport is the responsible way to better connect Sussex and safeguard all our futures. Do we want to trash our countryside heritage and increase choking, traffic into our villages and towns, or make it easier for everyone to get around lightly with the health of this and the next generation in mind?

Isn’t future-proofing business about access to jobs for all of the vast talent Sussex has to offer, not just those with cars, and about securing resources for the economic health of everyone?

Has the value of our beautiful countryside and historic villages been wiped off the balance sheet?”


Monty’s View.

I believe we need to be far more pragmatic… The eastern section of this road is indeed poor especially as it is a trunk road. However, the neighbouring countryside is of iconic status, at last having gained National Park status. A dual-carriage way hugging its northern boundary?  Walking the South Downs Way acoompanied by the song of skylarks accompanied by the roar of four lanes of traffic?  No!

Pollution levels are already drastically changing the flora and the wildlife that depends on it; the chalk grasslands of southern England are one of Europe’s great landscapes.  Future generations (and all those tourists that fill beds in the surrounding area) would not lightly forgive us for scaring this beautiful part of England. Road improvements, investment in public transport and a change of mind-set by society as we move towards a low-carbon life-style are what are required.

Week Ending November 15th

Monday, November 10th.  Whilst checking ponies at the National Trust’s Blackcap site, which where the ponies are, is steep and partially wooded, I was caught out by a passing storm which had decided to venture a little further inland than expected.  So there I was, trying to gain shelter beneath a thinly-leafed hawthorn tree, holding a galvanised bucket over my head.  I can just imagine a Coroners Court – ‘death due his head being fried when struck by lightening with it would seem, a metal bucket over his head’!

Tuesday, November 11th.  Erection of the 2 kms of electric fencing is going well at Beachy Head, in readiness for the arrival of the first of the Exmoor ponies this week; this site is quite a large, flower-rich, south-facing slope.  At Jevington, pulled over this morning to watch a rough-legged buzzard hunting over a large area of game-cover vegetation opposite Oxendean Farm.  People are able to get some really good sightings of this juvenile; there has been apparently, something of an influx to the east and north of the UK.

Thursday, November 13th.  After scrambling around on a very steep hillside this morning, we managed to drive 12 ponies from off Blackcap, corral and then transport over to Beachy Head,P1010749 where they commenced winter grazing for Eastbourne Borough Council.  The site is south-facing slope rich in chalk grassland flora and insects.  Having arrived early afternoon, they had several hours to become accustomed to their new home and sea views.

Friday, November 14th.  Observed a ‘V’-shaped skein of some 16 geese flying SW towards Lewes midday.  [46 Brent geese seen in lower Cuckmere valley next day].  Over the town, they veered south and began to lose height towards Lewes Brooks.  They were not Canada geese – too small; were possibly dark in colour.  R/L buzzard (and bird watchers) still in residence at Jevington.  Had a long slog inspecting the electric fencing at Beachy Head!

Saturday, November 15th.  A red kite flew high over Hartfield village today.


Fossil Fuels Should Be Phased Out by 2100 says IPCC

Fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 says IPCC

The unrestricted use of fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, a UN-backed expert panel says. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in a stark report that most of the world’s electricity can – and must – be produced from low-carbon sources by 2050.

If not, the world faces “severe, pervasive and irreversible” damage. The UN said inaction would cost “much more” than taking the necessary action.

The IPCC’s Synthesis Report was published on Sunday [Nov 2] in Copenhagen, after a week of intense debate between scientists and government officials. It is intended to inform politicians engaged in attempts to deliver a new global treaty on climate by the end of 2015.

The report says that reducing emissions is crucial if global warming is to be limited to 2C – a target acknowledged in 2009 as the threshold of dangerous climate change. The report suggests renewables will have to grow from their current 30% share to 80% of the power sector by 2050.  In the longer term, the report states that fossil fuel power generation without carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology would need to be “phased out almost entirely by 2100”.


‘Science has spoken’

The Synthesis Report summarises three previous reports from the IPCC, which outlined the causes, the impacts and the potential solutions to climate change.  It re-states many familiar positions:

Warming is “unequivocal” and the human influence on climate is clear

The period from 1983 to 2012, it says, was likely the warmest 30 year period of the last 1,400 years

Warming impacts are already being seen around the globe, in the acidification of the oceans, the melting of arctic ice and poorer crop yields in many parts

Without concerted action on carbon, temperatures will increase over the coming decades and could be almost 5C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century

“Science has spoken,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. “There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.” “There is a myth that climate action will cost heavily,” said Mr Ban, “but inaction will cost much more.”

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, described the report as “another canary in the coal mine”. “Those who choose to ignore or dispute the science so clearly laid out in this report do so at great risk for all of us and for our kids and grandkids,” Mr Kerry said in a statement.

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey described the report as the “most comprehensive, thorough and robust assessment of climate change ever produced”. “It sends a clear message that should be heard across the world – we must act on climate change now. It’s now up to the politicians – we must safeguard the world for future generations by striking a new climate deal in Paris next year,” he said.

“The UK has been leading the world and bringing the world with us. The historic agreement to cut carbon emissions in Europe by at least 40 per cent by 2030 effectively means our Climate Change Act is being replicated across Europe, just as it’s being copied in countries across the world as they seek to cap and cut their own emissions.”


Blunt language.

Prof Myles Allen from Oxford University, a member of the IPCC core writing team, said: “We can’t afford to burn all the fossil fuels we have without dealing with the waste product which is CO2 and without dumping it in the atmosphere.”

“If we can’t develop carbon capture we will have to stop using fossil fuels if we want to stop dangerous climate change.”

Analysis: David Shukman, BBC science editor.

The language in the UN’s climate reports has been steadily ratcheted up over the years, but this publication lays out the options more bluntly than before. The conclusion that fossil fuels cannot continue to be burned in the usual way – and must be phased out by the end of the century – presents governments with an unusually stark choice.

The IPCC has tried to make it more palatable by saying that fossil fuel use can continue if the carbon emissions are captured and stored. But so far the world only has one commercially-operating plant of that type, in Canada, and progress developing the technology is far slower than many had hoped.

So this raises the difficult question of how key governments are likely to respond. Events in Copenhagen back in 2009, when a disastrous and dysfunctional summit failed to agree anything substantial, showed how easily rhetoric crumbles in the face of economic pressures or domestic realities.

The report’s clarity of language over the future of coal, oil, and gas was welcomed by campaigners.  “What they have said is that we must get to zero emissions, and that’s new,” said Samantha Smith from World Wildlife Fund. “The second thing is they said that it is affordable, it is not going to cripple economies.”

Fierce standoff.

In the IPCC’s discussions on fossil fuels, there was a fierce battle over a chart that showed how much the electricity sector needed to curb its carbon, the BBC’s environment correspondent Matt McGrath reports from Copenhagen.  According to one observer, “the Saudis went ballistic” over the chart’s inclusion.

While arctic sea ice is melting at an alarming rate, Antarctic sea ice at record levels, Dr Helen Czerski reports

Another significant fight was over the inclusion of text about Article 2 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It quickly became a standoff between those who want the focus to be on cutting emissions against those who think the right to develop economies must come first.

An unlikely alliance between Bolivia and Saudi Arabia ultimately saw the section dropped entirely from the underlying report.

Some of those attending the talks said that tackling climate change and sustainable development went hand in hand. “Different countries come to different perspectives” said Prof Jim Skea from Imperial College and a review editor of the report.  “But from the science perspective, we need them both. We need to walk and chew gum at the same time.”