Sun Rising Over Hills And Mist On The Somerset Levels

New climate change project will help Somerset adapt to floods and drought

A grant of £2.1million from the EU’s Interreg 2 Seas’ programme will help Somerset adapt to life on the frontline of climate change.

Somerset’s long coast and large areas of low-lying land make it more vulnerable than most parts of Britain to rising sea levels, river flooding and the effects of drought.

A new project called Co-Adapt – short for Climate Adaptation through Co-Creation – now aims 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.

Co-Adapt will focus on the Somerset Levels and Moors, Porlock Vale and the catchment of the River Culm, which flows down into Devon from its source near Holman Clavel in the Blackdown Hills in Somerset. (More details about these three areas can be found by scrolling down).

Great emphasis is placed on what the EU calls co-creation, which means people and organisations working together.

Co-Adapt project partners are Somerset County Council, Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA), Somerset Wildlife Trust, the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group SouthWest, the National Trust and Blackdown Hills AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

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. New predictions from the Environment Agency suggest that England could run short of water within 25 years. The Environment Agency has also been consulting nationally on a new Flood and Coastal Risk Management Strategy that aims to “help communities better understand their risk and give them more control about how to adapt and respond”.

Co-Adapt will use a new approach known as Adaptation Pathways. This links nature-based solutions, like planting trees or restoring wetlands and floodplains, to wider environmental ambitions. So as well as reducing flood and drought risks, it is hoped to restore ecosystems across whole landscapes and lock up carbon from the atmosphere, thereby helping to prevent further climate breakdown.

Ideas will be developed through a process of seeking and building consensus. Local communities, landowners, farmers, policy makers, councils, and infrastructure experts will all be invited to contribute their experience and expertise. Co-Adapt will analyse threats, develop a range of measures tailored to Somerset’s needs, and encourage action.

Cllr David Hall, Chair of Somerset Rivers Authority and Somerset County Council cabinet member for Economic Development, Planning and Community Infrastructure, said: “Like councils across Somerset and the rest of the country, we declared a Climate Emergency earlier this year and this project complements that decision perfectly. Natural approaches to reducing flood risk are less invasive and more sustainable.”

Co-Adapt partners in Belgium, Holland and France will also be trying out different approaches. Lessons learned will be shared between countries.

Steve Mewes, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Somerset Wildlife Trust, said: “The impacts from previous decades of burning fossil fuels are yet to be fully felt, but we do know that regardless of work to reduce global emissions, there will be a degree of climate change – the impacts of which we need to prepare for now.

The floods of 2013-14 were an early wake-up call for Somerset’s communities, and led to the creation of Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan and Somerset Rivers Authority.

“The plan made a commitment to develop long-term solutions to reduce flood and drought risks. The Co-Adapt project is a major part of fulfilling this commitment and being confident that we are adequately prepared for what lies ahead.”

Co-Adapt on the Somerset Levels: Adapting the Levels

The SRA has contributed 40% match-funding towards the costs of this project in 2019-20, as part of the SRA’s Enhanced Programme of works for 2019-20. The SRA’s match-funding meant the project could go ahead. It will not be affected by Brexit.

Areas benefitting: Sedgemoor, Somerset West and Taunton, South Somerset

Objectives, outcomes, benefits


In Somerset, Co-Adapt will invest in the development, testing and rolling out of approaches to the co-creation of nature-based solutions that improve people’s capacity to adapt to the water-related effects of climate change. Somerset will become more flood (and drought) resilient.


Somerset Levels: In 2014, 150km2 of the Somerset Levels and Moors flooded. The cost to the whole county was up to £147.5million.

A key aim of Co-Adapt is to explore sustainable approaches to flood protection and alleviation.

More Land Trusts and Moor Associations will be encouraged, following up on work funded by the SRA, eg on West Moor. The SRA is part-funding a Moor Associations Co-ordinator and a Farm Liaison Officer.

Co-Adapt investments will result in:

  • 2500 hectares on the Somerset Levels being better adapted for flooding and drought, with improved accessibility to five moors and three structures adapted to deliver more naturally functioning water management with less reliance on traditional engineering techniques.
  • An adapted water management regime on 1500 hectares to manage flooding using natural processes rather than pump drainage, saving €200,000+ in a major flood event. This will significantly reduce the current total costs of flood and drought management in the pilot area. Monitoring equipment will be placed on adapted water management structures to measure their effectiveness in delivering water management.

Co-Adapt in Porlock Vale

This strand is led by the National Trust and ties in with its major Riverlands project. Ambitions include:

  • restoring moorland in the headwaters (river source areas)
  • re-connecting rivers with their floodplain
  • re-introducing species
  • creating flood meadows, ponds and seasonal wetlands on the floodplain
  • restoring natural processes to deliver benefits for people and nature

Works so far carried out include natural flood management works on the National Trust’s 12,000-acre Holnicote estate.

At Hurdledown, between Exford and Porlock, 280 metres of hedgerow were planted earlier this year with 1000 young beech trees (pictured below) to help slow the flow of rainfall down the Horner valley.

Beech saplings planted on a hedge bank at Hurdledown with Exmoor moorland in distance

At Lower Selworthy, works focused on a main location for River Aller catchment run-off, namely slopes running down towards the A39. Improvements included the creation of riparian corridor and habitat through the fencing-off of key areas and the creation of swales and scrapes.

Both initiatives were funded by the SRA and the EU’s Interreg 2 Seas programme as part of Co-Adapt.

Co-Adapt in the catchment of the River Culm: Connecting the Culm

In Devon and part of Somerset, the Blackdown Hills AONB service will be working with communities to install natural flood management approaches in three demonstration zones. Aims include creating attenuation ponds and silt traps by damming streams and drainage channels, and setting up innovative flood alleviation features on land linked to new developments.

Tim Youngs, Manager of the Blackdown Hills AONB said: “With the ever-increasing effects of climate change, such as flood and drought, it is a critical time to tackle the issues facing the catchment of the River Culm.

“We will be working with local communities helping the Culm catchment to ‘heal’ itself. In doing so, it will become more resilient to flood and drought and local people will benefit through reduced flood risk to properties downstream, enhanced biodiversity and improved water quality.”

Read more about the Co-Adapt Connecting the Culm Project on the Blackdown Hills AONB website.

Below: the River Culm in flood in 2016, courtesy of Blackdown Hills AONB.

Aerial view of water overflowing from River Culm.

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