SRA Annual Report 2018-19: Looking into the future (W5)
As part as Building Local Resilience, Somerset Rivers Authority has been encouraging local people and organisations to co-operate and adapt to the water-related effects of climate change – flooding and drought. The Somerset Levels, particularly, are at the forefront of concerns about the effects of climate change and sea level rises. Several partners in the SRA – Somerset County Council, Mendip District Council, Sedgemoor District Council, South Somerset District Council, and the new Somerset West and Taunton Council – have all declared climate emergencies and pledged to take action. Members of the SRA Joint Scrutiny Panel, largely drawn from local councils, have raised climate change issues and the subject regularly featured in debates in Parliament about the Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill. The Environment Agency’s new Draft National Flood and Coastal Risk Management Strategy also stresses that “climate change is the biggest challenge we face. It poses the greatest threat to our economy, environment, health, and way of life. The increased risk of flooding and coastal change that it brings is significant.”
Notable SRA moves in 2018-19 have included funding for a new project called Co-Adapt, support for a new Environmental Land Management scheme on the Somerset Levels, and nurturing the formation of the West Moor Futures Group. A similar association of landowners is being encouraged on Wet Moor, and there are ongoing discussions about an SRA project devoted to Maintaining the Resilience of Wet Grassland. Also, as covered in the Workstream 2 section of this report, the SRA has match-funded Triple C schemes: the three Cs stand for Climate resilient, Community-based, and Catchment planning and management.
Support from Somerset Rivers Authority has helped Somerset to take part in a new project called Co-Adapt. The aim of Co-Adapt is to get local people and organisations co-operating and adapting to the water-related effects of climate change. Work began early in 2019.
The SRA’s main interest is in flood protection and alleviation, but Co-Adapt will also help to encourage greater resilience to drought on nearly 10 square miles of the Somerset Levels. Recent Environment Agency predictions suggest that England could run short of water within 25 years. One of the aims of the Environment Agency’s new draft national Flood and Coastal Risk Management Strategy is to “help communities better understand their risk and give them more control about how to adapt and respond”.
In Somerset, Co-Adapt is part of the EU’s Interreg 2 programme. Its main partners locally are FWAG SW, Somerset Wildlife Trust, Somerset County Council, the National Trust and Devon County Council (as the accountable body for the Blackdown Hills AONB Partnership). Great emphasis is placed on what the EU calls co-creation, which means people and organisations working together.
Moor Associations, Farm Liaison and Maintaining the Resilience of Wet Grassland
One of the aims of Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan is to facilitate “better management of the most vulnerable and challenging parts of the Somerset Levels, with the consent of owners and occupiers, with the intent of helping them to remain profitable and build greater resilience to climate and economic change.” A first phase of SRA-funded exploratory works focused on the need for greater collaboration between farming, conservation and water management sectors, using a positive common goal as a tool for change. A second, more practical phase then helped to establish, in summer 2018, the new West Moor Futures Group. The Group has met twice, designed a logo and put signs out on the moor to discourage dog walkers from disturbing nesting birds.
Similar approaches have begun on Wet Moor and Tealham and Tadham Moor. One important topic is how engineering works could bring benefits to both farmers and wildlife. Such works could include better maintenance of existing water level management control features or the design and installation of new equipment.
Early in 2019, FWAG SW advertised for a Moor Associations Co-ordinator to continue with this work as part of Co-Adapt. FWAG SW also advertised for a Farm Liaison Officer. The SRA agreed to fund both posts for two years.
Discussions have also begun about linking Co-Adapt with the SRA’s existing project on Maintaining the Resilience of Wet Grassland. The Wet Grassland project has been led for the SRA by the Parrett IDB, working closely with Natural England. It has been investigating how water levels and land can be managed to enable flood-resilient farming and good environmental outcomes in flood-prone areas for the next 20 to 30 years. As one of the main aims of Co-Adapt is to make 2500 hectares of the Levels better adapted for flooding and drought, there is an obvious and promising overlap.