The flooding currently affecting the United Kingdom has, in parts, changed the landscape of our island forever.  Some areas, notably the Somerset Levels should in time return to a state of normality depending on the efficiency of the Environment Agency’s sixty five pumps removing over a million tonnes of flood water.  Whether normality will be maintained in the future is another question.


The photos used have been provided by Ally Hunter Blair who has documented the flooding on the family farm over the course of the winter. You can follow him on Twitter @wyefarm

News agencies have been covering the events in Somerset with fervent curiosity, relaying the stories of island villages, newly established ferry routes and the public despair that local rivers are no longer dredged.

The plight of farmers and farmland have also gained the attention of the national press. James Winslade’s story has been featured several times: flooding in 2012 cost his farm business £163,000 and with 790 of the farm’s 840 acres underwater, this year’s financial impact could be the same. His family may have to sell the farm.

Food price rises

Between them, the Daily Mail and Telegraph respectively report that 30,000 and 20,000 acres of farmland are underwater.  BBC Newsbeat in turn suggests that there are now fears the flooding will lead to food price rises.

It seems doubtful that this will be the case: the snow storms in early 2013 killed thousands of livestock but had little impact on meat prices.  The floods during the summer of 2007 covered farmland totalling 103,784 acres or just over 0.5% of agricultural land in England according to the Department for Environment Farming and Rural Affairs.  The current floods cover around a quarter of the area flooded in 2007.


What does flooding actually mean for farmers?

From threatening livestock to damaging infrastructure and ruining arable land the impact of flooding is far reaching.  For example Welsh farmer, Ben Jones has had to look for new barn space to rent as floodwater has made his usual lambing space currently unviable.  Other farmers are having to undertake emergency rescue or evacuation of livestock from fields and buildings before they become inaccessible.

Perhaps the most visual and widespread impact is on the arable and grass fields that make our countryside so picture perfect.

Flood water only contains 3% of the oxygen that the same volume of air itself contains.  The small amount of oxygen is quickly used by aerobic microorganisms and the plants themselves before the plant roots begin to suffer from asphyxiation.

Flood water rapidly prevents gaseous transfer at the root and also prevents the escape of gasses that slow extension or severely damage plant roots.  Therefore even if flood water quickly recedes the plants are less tolerant to drought stress during the summer.  Un-germinated seeds or those that have just germinated at most risk of damaging from waterlogged soils.  They rapidly rot and many crops therefore don’t even mange to emerge from the seedbed.

A big deal?

Some people will look at the countryside and think that as very few fields are permanently underwater what the problem is after the flood waters have visually receded.

However, depending on the soil type it may take weeks or months depending on the continuing weather conditions before farmers can safely take machinery onto the fields.  If the previous crop has been killed by the flooding then there is the financial and time burden of establishing a new crop in its pace and hoping that the second planting doesn’t befall the same or similar fate.

While the visual impact of natural events such as flooding or snow storms normally only resides for a relatively brief duration the financial and emotional consequences are far reaching.  If weather events cause a cumulative impact, as for some living in Somerset and elsewhere in the country, then the results are often catastrophic.


Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. Everything you say is true. To discover the true causes one must cast further back in history than the past few years, further back than the time when weather records began. Back to the dawn of the Industrial Age. Up until the catastrophic weather systems of the 18th century these islands had developed a very sophisticated argricultural system that in the main worked exceedingly well, in spite of the other challenges of war and disease. The terrible harvest year after year in the 18th century forced Britain to look to ways of improving agriculture and thus the Agricultural revolution was born. Revolutions broke out all over Europe driven by poverty and failing harvests. Let them eat cake said Marie Antoinette. She wasn’t being patronising – she was referring to Brioche, a form of bread that requires less flour to make.Traditional common lands were enclosed, the rural dweller was dispossessed, moved to the cities and lost their ties with the rhythm of the land. The 19th saw the rise of the trade driven scientific Britain, a stance adopted by our cousins over the pond. The importation of vast quantities of guano to spread on the land increased the nitrates in our coastal waters and by the 1930’s our fishing industry was already done for although it took another 50 years for the final nail in the coffin. Meanwhile fields got bigger, hedgerows and trees began to disappear, used for successive war efforts. More land was brought into production. Towns and cities grew larger. The weather from the 1880’s became more benign compared to the previous century. The drive to make the land more productive with artificial fertilisers dawned – by the 1960’s the industrialisation of agriculture in Britain was almost complete – we had won the war over nature. Except that we hadn’t, we had merely papered over the cracks.
    Our ancient knowledge was lost and with it our ability to live safely in these islands. In our ignorance we ploughed the hilltops, built over the ancient bournes and streams, tore up our woodlands and replaced them with forestry commission plantations of alien trees whose leaf drop poisoned the rivers and waterways – we erroneously blamed the weather – Acid Rain.
    We straightened the rivers that were left, dredged them out to allow water to flow fast to the sea, carrying their vital nutrients mixed with our industrial poisons and human effluent, destroying our seas around us. We ditched and dyked all in the name of progress.
    Then the rains came once more – rivers burst their banks, areas that for thousands of years have flooded in the winter depositing their bounteous alluvial silts, have returned, only now the land is poisoned with run off from towns, cities, villages, farms and industrial areas across our island.
    It is not our land that is at fault it is the way that we manage it – we have become truly ignorant of the way of nature in these islands and we are suffering for it.
    It is not the responsibility of any one group of people, it is the responsibility of us as a whole, but as long as we continue along this path there will never be the opportunity again to do something about it. We are at crisis point and the flooding is merely nature’s way of letting us know.
    When, once again these islands are in a position to determine our own fate, only then will we be able to do anything about it, until then we remain in thrall to systems that work very well for continental land masses but not for our islands. It is up to us to make a stand and once again show the world the way forward. If not then the beacon of hope us truly extinguished


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