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Flooding & climate change

About Somerset flooding, climate change and lessons learned.

This section about Flooding & climate change is provided for information. You can Have your say in sections 3 to 6

Flooding Climate change Lessons learned

A lot has been achieved by the SRA, but a lot has also changed since 2014. More works of different kinds now need to be done, with people and places joining together to tackle varying problems with flooding across Somerset and looking ahead. With climate change expected to bring more intense floods to towns, villages and landscapes across the county, worse than those already being experienced now, people and places need to be prepared.


Somerset has flooded for centuries, in many places and in many ways. More than 4000 events are recorded in the Somerset Historical Flooding Database. Hardly anywhere in Somerset is more than a few miles from somewhere that has flooded and places that have not been directly affected by flooding have still been affected indirectly.

Across Somerset floods continue to occur. In January 2023, for example, a Major Incident was declared on the Somerset Levels and Moors, following a period of very wet weather - the eighth wettest since 1891.

In May 2023, in the east of Somerset, another Major Incident was declared. In the area worst hit, North Cadbury, Galhampton, Yarlington and Woolston, 10 centimetres of rain fell in 90 minutes one afternoon, an estimated 1-in-1,600 year event. In 16 villages and hamlets, around 180 properties were flooded inside. Parts of Wincanton, Bruton and Castle Cary also flooded.

In September 2023, around Taunton and in the west of Somerset, huge volumes of rain fell again during one storm. Around 50 properties and businesses were affected.

These cases of flash flooding followed earlier incidents in the 2020s in places such as Croscombe, Chard, Ilminster and Milverton.

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Climate change

When we are talking to people about their recent experiences of flash floods across Somerset, one subject that persistently comes up is climate change. People are taken aback by the ferocity, the heaviness, the ‘incredible intensity’ of downpours causing flooding.

The original 2014 Somerset Flood Action Plan referred to climate change just once, whereas now it is viewed as an all-encompassing threat.

SRA partners are seeing through their work that floods now occurring across Somerset are intensifying because of climate change.

Increased risk is predicted to include more rain in winter months and heavier and more intense rain on the very wettest days of all seasons, particularly summer. Peak river flows are expected to increase.

We will take full account of the water-related impacts of climate change when deciding which schemes and activities to support with SRA funding.

In practice, we know that actual future impacts will always depend upon local conditions and how different factors combine. We know the most damaging and disruptive impacts often occur when different kinds of flooding overlap.

What we cannot know is what exactly is going to happen where and when. We will therefore need to plan and prepare more in ways which explicitly seek to take into account increased uncertainties and unpredictabilities. A more flexible kind of readiness will be required.

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Lessons learned

1 – Our joined-up approach works

A "renewed, co-ordinated and joined-up approach" to addressing flooding issues - as called for in the 2014 Flood Action Plan then ever since enshrined in the SRA's Constitution - does bring benefits of various kinds for projects big and small.

Particularly in highly protected environments, where works are legally bound to comply with numerous regulations, we have found that partners working together means more can be achieved more quickly and more easily. A joined-up approach is also very useful when partners want to go beyond their usual boundaries to get at the root causes of problems.

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2 – We are good at helping people try out new ideas and integrate different approaches

Our special funding arrangements, layered partnership structure, non-bureaucratic flexibility and focus on going above and beyond, all make it easier for people to experiment with new approaches and different combinations of approaches.

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3 – Natural flood management works best as part of a series of moves

Flood risk management can be successfully combined with environmental improvements, particularly through working with natural processes, but there are limits with regard to how much can be achieved and where.

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4 - We need to keep encouraging better knowledge and understanding, more ambition and imagination, in ways that lead to action

We have found that it has become increasingly difficult for organisations to carry out or to fund non-statutory studies and investigations. Part of the problem is that water management in Somerset is an exceedingly complex subject, with multiple variables and uncertainties. The SRA is well-placed to help but ultimately we need studies and investigations, tests and trials to lead to actions that support SRA objectives.

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5 - SRA moves to spread funding between workstreams and different parts of Somerset have worked well, but we now need a tighter focus on catchments and sub-catchments

SRA policies and grant guidelines call for the development of programmes of work that are balanced geographically and by type of activity, with judgement used to assess that balance. Generally speaking, this previous approach to SRA programme development worked well. It produced many worthwhile projects across the county from Rode and Beckington in the east to Dulverton in the west.

We want in future to be able to better understand flooding problems across catchments and to understand what issues will benefit most from SRA support. We want to set out distinctive SRA local priorities so that people proposing projects to the SRA will need to respond to those issues, not just their own.

Hence the creation of this SRA Strategy and Flood Action Plan, to get the best results with the money we have.

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