SRA Annual Report 2020-21: Adapting the Levels and Co-Adapt

“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 has fed into many different parts of the SRA’s work, particularly into studies of possibilities for Wetland Biomass and into Adapting the Levels.


Somerset Rivers Authority and the EU’s Interreg 2 Seas European Regional Development Fund are funding a major project on the Somerset Levels and Moors called Adapting the Levels. The EU’s funding has not been affected by Brexit: the project runs until March 2023.

The aim of Adapting the Levels is to get local people and organisations co-operating and adapting to the water-related effects of climate change (flooding and drought).

Out on the ground, the project is being led by the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group SouthWest (FWAG SW), Somerset Wildlife Trust and Somerset County Council, with support from the SRA’s Community Engagement team.

Somerset Rivers Authority community engagement officer Emma Giffard with a group from Somerset Wildlife Trust in a room with handwritten notes and sheets of paper on the walls.
SRA Community Engagement Officer Emma Giffard (standing) leads a discussion about adaptation

Grants are being offered to farmers and landowners on the Somerset Levels & Moors for measures which will help them 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 are being shared between different countries.

The other two Co-Adapt projects in Britain are both local. They are: Connecting the Culm, which is led by the Blackdown Hills AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) team and covers parts of Somerset and Devon; and Porlock Vale Streams, which is led by the National Trust in West Somerset, and is interwoven with the Trust’s Riverlands initiative. Through Hills to Levels, the SRA has approved funding (all or part) for 12 Riverlands schemes. For a recent example, see the entry for Selworthy in the section of this report about grants for natural flood management schemes across Somerset.

Activities in 2020-21

Successful workshops and public drop-ins were held in Langport and Wedmore in early 2020, and the team’s intention was to hold follow-up events which would explore the ideas and local information gathered. The coronavirus pandemic made big get-togethers impossible, and so the partnership instead commissioned local artist Liz Snook to help turn a mass of data into a nicely illustrated report featuring local faces and places. In December 2020, this 44-page report was published online at and summary leaflets detailing the findings were printed and distributed.

The possibility of making more use of natural solutions to flooding and drought is one subject covered in the report. 93% of respondents (58 people out of 62 sampled) agreed or strongly agreed that, in future, “natural process solutions, which protect and restore the natural functions of river catchments, floodplains and coastlines” needed to play “a major part” in “the management of water and flood defence on the Somerset Levels” along with “infrastructure such as embankments, dredging and pumping”.

Lots of ideas were suggested for different places. These included:

  • Ponds, trees and water butts for gardens
  • Mass tree planting, dew ponds and leaky dams for the hills
  • Temporary floodwater storage for farmland or amenity land used for more leisurely purposes

Many people agreed that farmers should be offered the chance to earn new kinds of subsidies, for public goods such as storing floodwater on their land, locking-up carbon and improving wildlife habitats.

Leadership and collaboration were called for. One participant’s comment was: “Working together has to be the way forward. This is the biggest challenge we all face.”

‘Adaptation pathways’ and Somerset Trails

Two applications of the information in the Adapting to Climate Change on the Somerset Levels report were partly developed during 2020-21.

The first is a web-based app at that helps people turn ideas into plans called Adaptation Pathways. Various possible courses of action are displayed as different steps into the future, to help stir thoughts. People can explore the pros and cons of different choices and see how any single move has multiple inter-linked effects. Comments can be added, and people are encouraged to save and share pathways they are happy with. The more people take part, the more a collective vision will take shape, for further discussion and decision-making.

A lot of work also went into a mobile app called Somerset Trails. The app’s aim is to encourage people to walk around the Levels as they are now, but again with an eye to the future. Videos feature local people and experts linking parts of the landscape to the water-related risks of climate change. Subjects covered include farmers working together, natural flood management, Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS), and the dangers of drought. Through interactive features, users can identify opportunities to help their communities adapt to climate change. The app will be available on Android and iPhone from summer 2021, with a first pilot trail near Wedmore. Further trails are planned for Langport and the National Trust’s Holnicote estate in West Somerset (to tie in with the Co-Adapt Porlock Vale Streams project).

Moor Associations

Moor Associations were encouraged by the SRA in earlier strands of Flood Action Plan work now absorbed into Adapting the Levels. The forerunner in 2018 was the West Moor Futures Group, followed by Tealham and Tadham Moor, and most recently Moorlinch.

The SRA’s goal is to promote flood-resilient farming and good environmental outcomes in flood- prone areas, through greater collaboration between different sectors, chiefly farming, conservation and water management.

Moor Associations make it easier for people to co-operate and get things done. They are set up and run by local farmers and landowners who have agreed to work together for their mutual benefit. Local experience has shown that in areas with fragmented land use, greater collaboration between farmers and a single management structure enables greater collective buying power, more machinery sharing, better grazing arrangements and improved farmland infrastructure.

A Moor Associations Co-ordinator is employed on the Adapting the Levels project through FWAG SW, along with a Farm Liaison Officer and a part-time Water Management Adviser.

Activities in 2020-21

Coronavirus pandemic restrictions made site visits and other face-to-face meetings more difficult, but through phone calls, emails and careful adherence to social distancing, progress was made.

A Moor Association was formed on Moorlinch and improvements costing almost £30,000 were then completed, in partnership with Natural England. Works focused on the droves – the network of tracks and gateways that enables farmers to get where they need to go and do what they need to do. For example, jobs such as moving animals around are easier if gateways are not thick soups of mud and tracks are not so bumpy they could damage vehicles. Being able to move around efficiently also makes it easier for farmers to work with Natural England to maintain wetland areas in ways that better suit wildlife, with such endeavours often being funded through Countryside Stewardship agreements.

Three members of the new Moorlinch Moor Association chatting socially distanced near their pick-up trucks.
Three members of the new Moorlinch Moor Association meeting in August 2020.
A newly resurfaced track stretching into the distance on Moorlinch between two rhynes (ditches).
An improved drove on Moorlinch.

In return for Adapting the Levels paying for Moorlinch drove improvements, to improve resilience to flooding and climate change, the new Moor Association’s members agreed to set up an innovative infrastructure maintenance fund. All association members were called upon to make a proportionate annual contribution, equating to less than £2 a week. This will generate enough money to pay the estimated costs of drove maintenance. As all derive benefits from proper upkeep, this co-operative funding mechanism is expected to continue far beyond the initial five- year agreement. It will also be introduced to other Moors, following its enthusiastic uptake on Moorlinch.

New Moor Associations are in development at Curry Moor, Aller Moor (Beer Wall to Aller Drove) and on Sutton Hams near Moorlinch, allowing landowners to participate in this year’s Test and Trial programme for Defra’s new Environmental Land Management Scheme (known as ELMS). This trial will focus on the delivery of “public goods for public money”. It is expected to help unlock new ways of managing water on the Somerset Levels and Moors. Nationally, ELMS is due to be Defra’s main land management funding scheme by 2024.

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.

In March 2021, the SRA Board agreed that SRA policies should include “Addressing the Climate Emergency – to encourage projects which directly support Somerset’s response to climate change by increasing resilience and encouraging adaptation to the effects of climate change.”

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.

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