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Somerset's 20 Year Flood Action Plan:       Progress 2014-2016

The Somerset Levels & Moors Flood Action Plan was published in March 2014, after the devastating flooding of 2013/14. The Plan's aim was - and is - to reduce the frequency, duration and severity of any future flooding. 

When Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) was launched on 31 January 2015, the scope of the Plan was widened to include the whole of Somerset. The Plan is now overseen by Somerset Rivers Authority.

Flood Action Plan targets are detailed below, with a summary of key achievements between Spring 2014 and Spring 2016.

Scroll down this page to find out more about subjects including:

  • dredging
  • enhancements to the River Sowy / King's Sedgemoor Drain
  • infrastructure repairs and improvements
  • Bridgwater Barrier
  • Somerset Rivers Authority
  • catchment sensitive farming and natural flood management activities
  • urban water management and Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SuDs)
  • increasing business and community resilience
  • local leadership, governance and funding


The Somerset Levels and Moors Flood Action Plan was produced by a partnership of local and national organisations, co-ordinated by Somerset County Council. with involvement and support from flood-hit communities. The former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson, set the initial parameters and timescale.

While it recognises that we will never be able to stop flooding completely, the Flood Action Plan sets out six key objectives:

1. Reduce the frequency, depth and duration of flooding

2. Maintain access for communities and business

3. Increase resilience to flooding for families, agriculture, businesses, communities, and wildlife

4. Make the most of the special characteristics of the Somerset Levels and Moors (with internationally important biodiversity, environment and cultural heritage)

5. Ensure strategic road and rail connectivity, both within Somerset and through the county to the South West peninsula

6. Promote business confidence and growth


No single part of the Flood Action Plan will solve Somerset's flooding problems, but - put all together - its actions make a difference.


We must: Dredge the first 8km of the Rivers Tone and Parrett 

What we have achieved:

The Environment Agency completed the dredging of 4km of the River Tone upstream of Burrowbridge, and 4km of the River Parrett, back to their 1960s river profiles at the end of October 2014.

A total of 130,000 cubic metres of silt was removed.

Maintenance dredging of 2.2km of the Parrett upstream of Northmoor Pumping station was completed by the Parrett Internal Drainage Board, on behalf of the SRA, between December 2015 and March 2016.

River Sowy / King's Sedgemoor Drain enhancements

We must: Increase the capacity of the Sowy/King's Sedgemoor Drain (KSD) recognising that this solution will reduce the cost of pumping during future flooding events.  

What we have achieved:

Somerset County Council completed Beer Wall flood works in July 2015. As well as raising and repairing the road at Beer Wall, four culverts, measuring two metres tall by three metres wide, were installed under the A372 to allow water to pass under the road at times of severe flooding, as well as paving the way for Environment Agency works.

The Environment Agency, acting for the SRA, is now increasing the capacity of the Sowy/KSD by aligning the Sowy and Langacre to the four new culverts. 

This phase, due to finish in summer 2016, also includes installing concrete piled walls, supporting piles and a base slab framework for two new tilting weirs to control water levels. The tilting weirs will enable the River Sowy system to be used more flexibly, and will also mean that upstream and downstream pumping stations can be operated earlier. This will benefit many places affected by the floods of 2013/14 such as Langport, Muchelney, Thorney, Moorland and Fordgate.

Other Sowy/KSD system improvements include the removal of obstructive masonry from beneath Dunball Old Bridge as part of measures to improve the capacity and flow of water through the final stretch of the KSD; the upstream channel wall beyond the obstruction is also being considered for straightening and setting back to help smooth flow under the bridges and maximise the benefit of removing the obstruction. Work has also begun on improvements to Chedzoy Flap, which controls the meeting of the Penzoy river system (including Chedzoy New Cut) and KSD. The new control structure will prevent water entering the Penzoy system from the KSD during normal operation - better protecting farmland in the Chedzoy and Andersea areas. 

The SRA Board agreed in February 2016 to go ahead with the detailed design of a scheme to widen the Sowy/KSD and raise water-carrying capacity from 17 to 24 cubic metres a second. This scheme, costing several million, will use Growth Deal funding from Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership. It offers wider benefits in reducing flood depth and duration than any other single flood risk projects in the Flood Action Plan. Work is due to start in Autumn 2016 and finish in 2018.

Flood management and infrastructure solutions

We must: Invest in flood management and infrastructure solutions having developed a better understanding of their effectiveness

What we have achieved:

The Environment Agency built a new permanent defence at Aller Drove to replace the temporary defence installed in 2014. The work included raising the road and installing a new kerb, to help reduce flood risk to properties most at risk at Aller. Plus, a new sheet-piled wall will help reduce flood risk to properties in Westonzoyland.

Somerset County Council raised 500m of the road at Muchelney by 1.2 metres (see picture below), so that the village will not be cut off again in severe flooding.

Looking up bank at van driving along Muchelney raised road with view through culvert to other side of road below

This Muchelney scheme won the Effective Transport and Infrastructure Delivery Award at The Municipal Journal Achievement Awards. The project was also Highly Commended for the Construction and Engineering Project of the Year Award in the National Transport Awards. 

The Environment Agency and Internal Drainage Boards have repaired all damaged flood defences back to a pre-flood level. 

Two ring bank flood protection schemes for the village of Thorney on the Somerset Levels have been completed. On behalf of the SRA, the Environment Agency also carried out an initial assessment of locations where it might be possible to build ringbanks to provide extra flood protection to residential properties. 

Somerset County Council carried out repairs and resurfacing where appropriate on more than 26km of flood-affected roads, using materials more resilient to flooding, and approximately 3000m2 of carriageway patching.

Computer modelling was used to assess the impact of flooding identical to that of 2013/14, but with 8km of Parrett and Tone dredging completed and permanent and temporary pumps operating. The results showed a significant cut in the risk of flooding to 129 of the 142 properties that were reported to the Environment Agency as having flooded in Northmoor and Saltmoor in 2013/14; closure of the A361 reduced to about 3 weeks instead of the 9-10 weeks experienced; and the Moors cleared of water more quickly.

Flood closure gates have been installed at eight locations across the Somerset Levels & Moors to close roads in times of flooding and stop vehicles driving through flood water and potentially getting stranded. Locations are: East Lyng (x2), Athelney, North Curry, Burrowbridge, West Lyng, Huish Episcopi & Muchelney. The gates were commissioned for safety reasons and to lessen the burden on emergency services. A scheme was also undertaken to provide robust diversionary signage to be used when the gates were deployed.

Bridgwater Tidal Barrier 

We must: Accelerate the construction of a Barrier or Sluice at Bridgwater, with the objective of achieving delivery by 2024

What we have achieved:

A report published in November 2014 reviewed the options for a Parrett Barrier to manage flood risk in Bridgwater and the surrounding areas. This review looked at whether recent flooding, updated data or other evidence might influence the preferred option or timescale for a proposed £27m-£30m barrier.

A Bridgwater Tidal Barrier multi-agency project team has been set up to deliver preliminary work required before construction in 2021/22. Members have been learning lessons from similar barrier projects around the country, particularly in Boston and Ipswich. The project's development is being part-funded by the SRA.

Graphic showing how a tidal surge barrier works

Consultants have been appointed by the Environment Agency and Sedgemoor District Council to look at a range of possible locations, gate arrangements and operating regimes for a barrier. An 18-month study began in January 2016. It will cover the management of water levels, silt and navigation and assess environmental benefits and impacts

In March 2016, the first of a series of public consultation events invited people to give their views on a scheme which could protect approximately 10,000 properties and over 600 businesses for the next 100 years or more.

Somerset Rivers Authority

We must: Establish a Somerset Rivers Board that has greater control and responsibility for work to maintain and improve water management on the Levels

What we have achieved:

Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) was officially launched on 31 January, 2015: it covers the whole of Somerset.

SRA partners are the Environment Agency, the Internal Drainage Boards, Somerset County Council (the Lead Local Flood Authority), South Somerset District Council, Mendip District Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, Sedgemoor District Council, West Somerset District Council. Partners' existing flood management responsibilities, accountabilities and funding continue unchanged but through the SRA their work will become fully co-ordinated to ensure Somerset's flood risk management benefits from their collective experience and knowledge.

The SRA's Board decided the SRA should become a statutory precepting body. This means the SRA would appear on Somerset council tax bills alongside the local parish or town council, district council, county council, police and fire and rescue service.

In December 2015, the Government gave Somerset County Council and all Somerset district councils the power to set a shadow precept of up to 1.25%, for the purpose of funding the SRA, pending the establishment of the SRA as a precepting body.

The SRA's Board is pressing for legislation to establish the SRA as a precepting body with power, responsibility and accountability for the funding and delivery of the extra flood management works that Somerset needs. Regular and reliable funding helps long-term planning.

The SRA has drawn up a programme for 2016/17 that focuses primarily on providing extra maintenance as existing funding streams for this important activity are insufficient to cover the need. 28 different maintenance/revenue activities are proposed, across the whole of the county, covering dredging and desilting, maintenance and repairs of river channels and ordinary water courses, flood risk management assets, access improvements, highways drainage, controlling land run-off and attenuation, local resilience, flood warnings, enforcement, monitoring and gathering evidence.

Catchment sensitive farming / natural flood management  

We must: Support farmers to maximise the benefits from catchment sensitive farming, especially regarding run-off in the upper catchment

What we have achieved:

Targeting and scoping work has identified catchment priority areas for land management. Scientific research and modelling helps to establish flow pathways, soil opportunities and key flooding hotspots. 

The Hills to Levels project was launched in May 2015 as a two-year partnership between Somerset Wildlife Trust, RSPB, the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group South West (FWAG SW) and The Royal Bath & West of England Society. It is funded by £750,000 from players of the Peopleís Postcode Lottery. Its four key areas are: advising landowners in the upper catchments of the Rivers Parrett, Tone, Brue and Axe on ways in which they can 'slow the flow' of run-off to help reduce flood peaks, improve water quality, decrease soil erosion and increase wildlife; advising farmers on the Levels and Moors about flood resilient farming techniques and making grants; exploring the establishment of a Community Land Trust to own, lease or otherwise rent land at high risk of flooding, and to support the management of similar land by others; working with local communities to produce a collective vision for the Levels and Moors that represents the views of everyone living and working in a unique and much-loved landscape.

Using Growth Deal money from Heart of the South West LEP, the SRA is joining forces with the Hills to Levels project, in a capital grants scheme for natural flood management in Somerset to 'slow the flow'. This is an integrated approach to catchment management: its core messages are 'joining up the catchment' and 'every field, every farm, every stream has a part to play'. The SRA's land management workstream leader, Ben Thorne - a senior farm conservation adviser with FWAG SW - and his team are working with farmers on the design and construction of run-off attenuation features - and on getting consent for them. Ben Thorne is featured in the video below about leaky, woody dams and about woodland planting.

The SRA Hills to Levels project team has identified over 200 natural flood management features to install in the landscape, including leaky ponds, leaky woody dams, filter fences, filter dams, tree planting, new hedge banks, flow spreaders, soil bunds and check dams. By March 2016, more than 30 applications for grants had been approved, including:

tree planting on the Dillington estate near Ilminster (see video below)

work on three ponds and a series of dams in the Meeds Valley on Abbey Farm in Montacute near Yeovil

and natural flood management schemes at:

  • Halse (bunded ponds)
  • Brompton Ralph (leaky ponds, stone gabions, woody dams)
  • Bishops Lydeard (hedge planting)
  • Hestercombe (leaky ponds)
  • Wiveliscombe (leaky pond, track & flow spreaders)
  • Staple Fitzpaine (bund); Hurcott (silt barriers)
  • Croford (soil bunds, scrapes, cross drains along track, pond de-silting)
  • Stoke St Gregory and Pitminster (rainwater harvesting)
  • Shepton Beauchamp (filter soxx)
  • Nynehead (rainwater harvesting & filter soxx)
  • South Petherton (attenuation ponds, bunds)
  • Bower Hinton (hedge planting)
  • Donyatt (water meadow restoration)
  • Hinton St George (flow spreader debris dams)
A series of videos is being made to help show what natural flood management is - and how it works. Two are below: the first features Somerset Rivers Authority chairman Cllr John Osman, Dillington estate owner Ewen Cameron and the SRA's land management workstream leader Ben Thorne.
Woodland planting to slow the flow of water in the catchment of the River Isle, which feeds into the River Parrett.

The next video is about filter soxx: what they are and what they do. It features the catchment sensitive farming officer Roy Hayes.
Hills to Levels video about Filter Soxx, part of a series about natural flood management activities

The Royal Bath and West led 'Hills to Levels' project has also been funding capital works to increase resilience against flooding on farms, on the floodplains of the Somerset Levels.

Work is also being done on soil husbandry and soil health advice including the formation of farmer-led soil discussion groups. These are groups of farmers keen to demonstrate the improvement of soil health on their farms and spread that message to other farmers in their area.

Urban water management

We must: Manage urban runoff by ensuring best practice in planning and Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SuDs) implementation

What we have achieved:

All Somerset Local Planning Authorities have reviewed their planning policies with regard to flooding and a West of England Sustainable Drainage Developer Guide was published in March 2015, supported by Somerset County Council and the Environment Agency (both SRA partners).

An initial feasibility study has been published for a £16m Taunton Strategic Flood Alleviation Improvements Scheme, which involves creating a large flood storage area upstream of Taunton by 2021, and could enable the building of approximately 4,350 new homes and up to 10,000 jobs. Funding is being sought to take this further.

Data has been gathered to identify flooding 'hotspots', working with SCC Highways department and Wessex Water. Schemes have been added to Somerset's Common Works Programme.

Increasing business and community resilience 

We must: Sustain and enhance business and community resilience capacity

What we have achieved:

Residents' day to day lives, business operations, farming practices and community life have substantially been re-established and a range of recovery processes that can be deployed quickly in the event of another period of prolonged flooding, have been addressed. 

A Community Recovery and Resilience Officer has been working with local communities, parish councils, the Environment Agency, district councils, emergency services and other interested parties. Detailed community flood resilience plans - to help people prepare for, or respond to, any future flooding - have been distributed door-to-door in Burrowbridge, Moorland, Fordgate and West Yeo. Further plans are being drawn up for places such as Chadmead and Aller and work to develop community resilience will continue.

ITV reporter David Woodland films Moorland flood wardens Ed Florey and Kate Symonds
ITV reporter David Woodland films Moorland flood wardens Ed Florey and Kate Symonds during the launch of their local community flood resilience plans.

The Somerset Levels and Moors Flood Resilience Community Response Arrangements 2014/15 document was issued to members of the public via the community flood action plan groups. It provided clarity about what the local authorities will do, and what communities can do at different stages in an emergency.

The Environment Agency has produced 'Trigger Level Documents' for 10 agreed sites, explaining what, when and why certain operational decisions are undertaken in extraordinary flood conditions. These were rolled out at 30 public/partner meetings and were well-received. The EA has also produced seven video animations explaining the way its Trigger Points work. Click to see these Trigger Point videos on the SRA website.

A Somerset community resilience website has been completed to provide a comprehensive and easy access information source for resilience, linked to flood risk information: www.communityresiliencesomerset.org.uk

Strong local leadership, engaging partners and communities

We must: Ensure strong local leadership with full engagement of local partners and communities

What we have achieved:

Somerset Rivers Authority is run by a Board of partners from the five District Councils, Somerset County Council, the Environment Agency, the Parrett and Axe Brue Internal Drainage Boards, the Wessex Regional Flood & Coastal Committee and Natural England. 

The SRA provides a strategic overview of the continued delivery of the Flood Action Plan and reviews Somerset's Common Works Programme - the combined list of all the planned Flood Risk Management works of Somerset's Flood Risk Management Authorities and other partners. It identifies what further work needs to be done, explores and secures funding and commissions the delivery of that further work, known as the SRA Enhanced Programme of works.

Next Steps Set Out in the Executive Summary, March 2014

We must: establish long-term governance for the development and implementation of the Plan and where outstanding issues remain, local and national partners must commit to resolving these together. This will include working in partnership to develop new approaches for long term funding of management work on the Levels and identifying additional and innovative sources of funds to deliver elements of the plan. Detailed assessments and business cases will need to be produced to make the case for some of the investment choices, including how they compare to other projects across the country.

We must: review progress against the plan regularly. Defra ministers will meet with local partners regularly to review the plan and ensure progress is being made. 

We must: review governance arrangements after two years to ensure they are fit for purpose, including managing the transition of appropriate responsibilities to the new Somerset Rivers Board.

What we have achieved: 

A Leaders' Implementation Group was set up in April 2014 and in January 2015 when the SRA was created its duties were transferred to the SRA. The SRA is responsible for overseeing the delivery of the Flood Action Plan and progress against delivery is reviewed by the SRA Board quarterly and by the SRA Management Group monthly. Monthly reviews of progress are conducted. The SRA's governance arrangements were reviewed in March 2016 and an amended constitution was approved by the SRA Board in April 2016, for signing at the next Board meeting in July 2016.

Please click on the tab on the right to view Achievements up to 31 January, 2015.

A list of partners in the Flood Action Plan

Many different partner organisations are responsible for carrying out actions in the Flood Action Plan and / or funding them. They are:
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Department for Communities and Local Government
  • Department for Transport
  • Environment Agency
  • Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group
  • Mendip District Council
  • Natural England
  • Royal Bath & West Society
  • Sedgemoor District Council
  • Somerset County Council
  • Somerset Drainage Boards Consortium
  • South Somerset District Council
  • Taunton Deane Borough Council
  • West Somerset District Council 

Useful links

Click on the following link to view the Somerset Levels and Moors Flood Action Plan or to download, please click on the links below: 
The following report was produced following Flood Action Plan reviews:
If you would like to get in touch please contact us at sra@somerset.gov.uk or tel: 01823 355111
The Flood Action Plan is now overseen by the Somerset Rivers Authority and can be contacted on the above.