SRA Annual Report 2019-20: Adapting the Levels
“Greater resilience to climate and economic change”
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.”
This ambition feeds into many different parts of the SRA’s work, particularly into Adapting the Levels and the the Wetland biomass feasibility study.
Adapting the Levels
Somerset Rivers Authority and the EU’s Interreg 2 Seas European Regional Development Fund are funding a major project called Adapting the Levels. This involves communities, farmers and landowners, businesses, water management experts and local government.
The aim is to get local people and organisations co-operating and adapting to the water-related effects of climate change (flooding and drought). The project will run until 2023.
Its delivery partners are Somerset County Council, the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group SouthWest and Somerset Wildlife Trust.
Adapting the Levels offers grants to farmers and landowners on the Somerset Levels & Moors for measures which will hep them to become more resilient to flooding and drought.
Community-led nature-based solutions in towns and villages such as Langport and Wedmore are also eligible.
Adapting the Levels is part of a larger €7.347 million EU Climate Adaptation project called Co-Adapt. Co-Adapt is short for Climate Adaptation through Co-Creation. It involves 12 partners in four countries: Britain, France, the Netherlands and Belgium. Lessons learned will be shared between different countries.
The SRA’s community engagement officers have therefore begun working with project officers from Somerset Wildlife Trust and consultants Trioss to create draft adaption pathways with large numbers of local people. Initial focus areas have been parishes on Tealham and Tadham Moors near Wedmore, and Wet Moor and West Moor near Langport. Residents and businesses, landowners, farmers, policy makers, councils, and infrastructure experts have all been contributing experiences, ideas and knowledge. The process is one of seeking and building consensus.
Public drop-in sessions in Wedmore and Langport
Two public drop-ins were held in February 2020, one in Wedmore, one in Langport. Their purpose was to raise awareness about the local impacts of climate change, to share information about nature-based solutions to flooding and drought, and to give people chance to chip in to Adaptation Pathways. Over 330 people attended, and the events received widespread positive feedback.
One big successes was an augmented reality sandbox. This let players model sand into any kind of shape they wanted. The system responded by projecting a contoured map onto the sand. Participants could then make it ‘rain’ and see how rainfall (really, just blue light) moved across the landscapes they had made. This device helped was extremely popular with children and adults. It helped people to visualise how water is managed on the Somerset Levels & Moors, and will be used again at future events.
Event information boards are online at https://www.adaptingthelevels.com/information-boards
Working directly with farmers and landowners
A Moor Associations Co-ordinator, a Farm Liaison Officer and a Water Management Adviser, all employed through FWAG SW, have been working directly with farmers and landowners. Moor Associations were encouraged by the SRA in an earlier strand of work now absorbed into Adapting The Levels. The first association formed was West Moor Futures Group. Other groups are emerging on Wet Moor and Tealham and Tadham Moors.
In a presentation to the SRA Board in January 2020, co-ordinator Will Barnard explained the benefits of forming associations in areas with fragmented land use. Experience showed that greater co-operation between farmers and a single management structure enabled greater collective buying power, more machinery sharing, better grazing arrangements and improved farmland infrastructure.
Mr Barnard said that modest capital schemes – such as restoring droves – could make marginal landscapes significantly easier to manage. Adapting the Levels’ target is to make 4000 hectares more sustainable when up against “climate and economic change” (to quote Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan again).
Other Somerset Co-Adapt projects
Other Somerset Co-Adapt projects are in the catchment of the River Culm, which rises near Holman Clavel in the Blackdown Hills, and in Porlock Vale, where works fuse with the National Trust’s Riverlands initiative, and nine schemes have so far been part-funded by the SRA through Hills to Levels.
Several partners in the SRA – Somerset County Council, Mendip District Council, Sedgemoor District Council, Somerset West and Taunton Council and South Somerset District Council – have all declared climate emergencies and pledged to take action.
Members of the SRA Joint Scrutiny Panel, largely drawn from local councils, have frequently raised concerns about climate change and the subject featured regularly in Parliamentary debates about the Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill.
So the SRA’s support for Adapting the Levels is part of a much wider effort to increase public understanding of the water-related impacts of climate change, and to get people thinking about how Somerset should plan for a healthy and productive future.