Over the last few month or so flooding has been in the news almost everyday. The met office figures for January 2014 have just been released and show it was the wettest January in England for 250 years. Records have apparently been kept in Oxford for that long. Looking at map of the UK the rainfall has been very localised. Whilst it is centred the middle of southern England its surprising some areas not so far away have had almost normal rainfall and other areas such as the north of Scotland have been comparatively dry. This latter occurrence happened in 2012 where someone we knew said her relatives on Harris or Lewis could not play football since the ground was too parched. Meanwhile the rest of us were flooded. Whilst there has been some flooding in Wales, Kent and parts of Northern Ireland and Scotland the main problems have been on the Somerset levels parts of which have been underwater for a month. I know this area reasonably well since my Grandparents retired there and I still have relatives in this area.
There are a number of issues relating to the flooding in Somerset that are causing controversy. Whether the main rivers should be dredged being one. For what its worth I think they should be. When I was a child they were. The recent weather is far worse than has been seen before. This is in my view clear evidence that the effects of climate change are being seen earlier than we expected. But to be fair we did have bad weather then and flooding was seemingly managed better. However, dredging the rivers is probably not the total answer. This thought raises another issue that is starting to be talked about. How far should we defend the land against flooding and given this land is largely farmland are we setting up competition between the sea and growing food?
This part of Somerset was traditionally a massive swamp. I remember my Grandfather pointing to an empty field and telling me Archaeologists had found a Roman port there. It was miles in land from the sea. Much of the Somerset levels are below sea level and were reclaimed from the sea starting in Roman times and only finishing fairly recently. They are now rich farmland (mostly Dairy). The question is should we write off this land and let the sea reclaim it? This is good to nature in one way, although the type of landscape and comparatively sustainable agriculture comprises an important wildlife habitat. Its a question not just for this part of the world but vast swathes of inhabited coastal land worldwide as sea levels rise and the weather patterns change. Chris Smith the head of the Environment agency (responsible for flood management in England) has raised this issue today.
In my view growing enough food at a price that is vaguely affordable for most is one of the most pressing issues over the next few decades. Man made climate change with its effects on the weather and peak oil will make providing enough food increasingly difficult. My gut reaction is except in very limited circumstances we should not abandon land to the sea.