The scenes of devastated villages and farms in the Somerset levels inspire the greatest compassion in we who observe from afar, hearing stories of drowned badgers being washed up in houses, lost livestock and livelihoods, valueless properties, and conditions of unimaginable hardship for those who are marooned in a sea of water. Nature is showing her pre-eminence, harshly.
It is not unusual for parts of Somerset to be flooded, and indeed Glastonbury’s reputation for being the site of the legendary Isle of Avalon may be based on fact: severe weather results in the
[caption id="attachment_2359" align="alignright" width="200"] Glastonbury Tor[/caption]
area surrounding Glastonbury Tor to be covered by water, making it an island once again, as it was long ago. Other places in Somerset, as we see now, become islands with increasing frequency, and this pattern is likely to continue and be seen elsewhere in the UK as water becomes more and more a feature of this age.
Any place that sits below sea level will be vulnerable to flooding, and it is beginning to be realised that it is folly to try to change nature, for when we do, the outcome can be unpredictable, and unfortunate. Different countries including the UK have blocked rivers or diverted them, built on flood plains and torn down the forests that absorbed the excess water and protected the land, and by so doing we have contravened the natural laws of the land, to our great cost and that of the environment.
Beneath London there are several underground rivers which once flowed through the city but which were built upon: the waters run there still, waiting to emerge into the Underground and the sewage systems as they do periodically, after heavy rain, and they will make their presence felt more and more. Meanwhile, thousands of homes have been built on flood plains and are surrounded by concrete for easy parking and maintenance, increasing or even encouraging the risk of flooding.
The government is faced with a major issue: having ignored the rhythm of nature and the lie of the land for decades, having denied a serious problem was developing, and having focused on intensive farming and house building at the expense of the environment, they are being forced to concede that artificial processes based on wishful thinking (how they would like it to be) and avoidance of a painful reality not only do not work, but may be exacerbating the problem.
[caption id="attachment_2360" align="alignleft" width="200"] Floods on the Somerset Levels[/caption]
It can take a crisis to bring about a common sense solution, and it may be that the Somerset floods will achieve the attitude of co-operation rather conflict with nature that would be so desirable, and is so necessary for the whole of the UK, not just the South West. Already Owen Paterson, the Minister responsible for the environment, is talking about re-forestation for water capture, proper river and ditch maintenance, and working with the wildlife trusts to achieve a workable solution; much more besides will need to be done, in the context of a national environmental strategy based on a sympathetic, realistic approach to the countryside alongside human need.
After determining his subject, a painter begins a picture with the right canvas, and then he decides which paints to use and how to apply them – the canvas comes first. So it is with our land and environment: we must take it as it is, and then decide what we can do with it taking into account its texture, size, colour, personality and so on. Nature comes first, always, as the people of Somerset have discovered - and it does not have to be painful.
My video on a badger family playing in happy times can be seen here