The flooding in Somerset is no accident, believes Chris Rundle. It’s a green conspiracy
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a pair of genuine sabots – the massive wooden clogs favoured by continental peasants in times past and which are still, in some remoter parts, worn to this day.
They are impressive affairs. Solidly carved out of single blocks of wood. Like wearing window boxes. And a fearsome weapon, in the wrong hands (or more correctly on the wrong feet) for inflicting severe damage on one’s rival’s or employer’s equipment and machinery at such times as it was necessary to demonstrate discontent.
From sabot we get the word sabotage, meaning, of course, to put out of action by destructive means. And the more the Somerset flooding saga unfolds the more clear it becomes that sabotage is what the Environment Agency has been up to behind a smokescreen of legitimacy.
It has quietly but deliberately been sabotaging a productively-farmed landscape with the aim of ousting farmers in favour of wildlife. And it has taken a once-in-250-year deluge to demonstrate dramatically what’s been going on.
With its Labour-appointed chairman Lord Spineless looking on approvingly the agency has pursued a stealthy policy of deliberate neglect, the effect of which, ultimately, would have made the Levels unfarmable.
There is the matter of the pumps that have been deliberately left unrepaired or in one case so ill-maintained that when they were started up a family living nearby threatened to obtain a noise abatement order – which the EA was all ready to cave in to by switching them off again.
There was the case of the jammed sluice near Andersea which was required to be operated at the end of last week but which couldn’t be because the lifting mechanism had been stolen – and not replaced.
Then there is the famous new spillway at Combe, near Langport, created by contractors last summer at a reported cost of more than £500,000. Here the EA has actually lowered the bank of the Parrett for about a third of a mile to allow excess water to flow into the Sowy River.
Yet a perfectly good link already existed between the two to handle excess flows. Local farmers point out that the new spillway now leaves hundreds of acres vulnerable to catastrophic summer flooding, that their all-important hay-making operations could be effectively sabotaged – there is no other word for it.
Just who agreed to this construction is not clear because there seems to have been no consultation with the landowners who have now been placed at risk.
The evidence is now starting to stack up to such a height that locals have lost all trust in the Environment Agency. Even its feeble attempts at dredging last autumn are now being regarded as a classic piece of procrastination, allowing the EA to be seen to be doing something while actually achieving nothing.
As to the five miles of dredging promised for March the word from a well-placed mole is that EA managers are already compiling a list of excuses and spurious reasons which will be trotted out for not doing the work, or for doing only a fraction of it when the time comes – though officials have at least now conceded that the dredged material will not be classed as contaminated waste, as had been claimed previously.
Even assuming all five miles are cleared that will still not be enough. Particularly for those in Thorney and Muchelney who were the first to feel the effects of the flooding and where the water inside the houses rose to waist-deep again last week.
As they point out the section of the Parrett upstream from Langport also needs dredging. They remain distinctly unconvinced that partial clearance further down will prevent a repeat of the problem next winter – though if it does recur they can already hear the flat-earthers jubilantly pointing out that since the dredging hadn’t prevented flooding then clearly dredging wasn’t the answer.
The EA, they believe, is prepared to spin it all out until the general election in the hopes that a newly-elected Labour administration will simply reinforce the policies put in place by the last one and we can all watch as the clock is turned back on the Levels by eight centuries in the space of eight years.
Somerset flood victims have had to put up with a lot in the last few weeks. And last week they must have particularly enjoyed being patronised by environmentalist George Monbiot whose knowledge of the drainage regime of the Somerset Levels is, of course, legendarily encyclopaedic.
But what they are not going to put up with is the Environment Agency being let off the hook. David Cameron has chosen to involve himself personally in this catastrophe. He has made three very high-profile visits to the Levels to show the Government is taking the issue seriously. There will doubtless be more. He has promised that the government will do what it takes to prevent a repeat of the catastrophe.
And he should be aware that such is the level of anger and frustration among the victims that not only will he be held to that promise, not only is he expected to issue the firmest of instructions to the EA to get on with it, but that any ducking the issue now will cost him very dearly at the ballot box.