‘Floods were always going to happen’ says Sheffield environmentalist

River Rother flood June 2007 by Christine Handley (1).jpg
River Rother flood June 2007 by Christine Handley (1).jpg
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ON THE WILD SIDE with Professor Ian Rotherham

Wet, and getting wetter!

At last, as flood waters are rising across the UK, David Cameron has promised to step in… Well, that is reassuring.

You may recall that I research floods, history, land-use and landscape. In this context, I was asked to speak on BBC Radio Somerset, and am this coming week, on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.

The main issue was, what I thought was behind the unprecedented flooding, and of course, what could be done.

My first comment is that largely, those suffering now, are not the ones responsible for the problem, although in some cases where properties are new-build their choice of location might be deemed foolhardy.

History is a great teacher but we need to learn and maybe the recent events are indeed, not altogether as unprecedented as people are saying.

They are bad, but throughout history, around the world, we have, experienced appallingly bad weather. Yet we are perpetually surprised, and furthermore, the kneejerk response, is that it must somehow be somebody-else’s fault.

A problem now, is that for various reasons, the rules of engagement between people and nature are changing fast, and nature is stacking the odds against us.

Compounding this, we are making the situation worse through overdevelopment on and around floodplains and on lands which shed their rainwater onto the same.

The present events are in fact predictable, and I for one, have been predicting them. There is a catch though. We can predict more extreme weather together with associated disastrous events such as flooding. However, the problem is that we do not know where or when they will happen.

Politicians are the ultimate decision makers in terms of polices, strategies and as the bottom line, budgets. They have known these risks now for many years, with Sheffield, Hull, and Gloucestershire in 2007, highlighting the potential stakes.

However, the present government in particular, has cut into funding for flood alleviation and slashed agency budgets so that experienced officers have been lost. They have further exacerbated the situation by allowing and still subsidising inappropriate methods of farming, still not paying farmers to manage water, and disastrously, still allowing floodplain developments.

For David Cameron to say now, that money is no object in addressing the problems of the floods, is hypocritical in the extreme.

This is a case of closing the sluice door after the water flooded out. Bear in mind that we all end up paying the price for this because cuts to Environment Agency and to local authorities mean but we end up with higher insurance premiums.

For more background, you might want to read my book on ‘Flooding, Water, and the Landscape’ or my ‘Lost Fens – England’s Greatest Ecological Disaster’. The Somerset Levels, for example, was a huge medieval wetland; the clue is in the name!

Professor Ian D. Rotherham, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues, is contactable on ianonthewildside@ukeconet.co.uk; follow ‘Ian’s Walk on the Wildside’, www.ukeconet.org for more information.