For much of Sunday afternoon, I was mentally preparing myself for a TV interview about the floods while the kids and I cleared up the mess in the garden created by the previous day's vigorous pruning (brought on by the nightmare that took place at Anfield).  

There had been some reticence for doing the interview as the crisis in the Levels and elsewhere across the country seemed to becoming increasingly politicised with people desperately looking for someone or something to blame. Yet, we decided that this was exactly the time to encourage a strategic debate about the future of preventing and responding to flooding.  This is what I argued in my Farming Today interview last week (here) and in a joint NGO letter to the Observer (here).

In the end, the interview was dropped.  Annoying, but these things happen.

But let's not waste all those useful thoughts.  Here is how I rehearsed the interview in my mind...

Q:  Eric Pickles has apologised for failing to have dredged the rivers Tone and Parrett, does the RSPB think he is right to do so?
A: We've already stated that in the Somerset Levels limited dredging should form part of the package needed to create a more flood-resilient landscape in the future. However, dredging won't represent the whole answer. We are part of the community on the Levels that has been working to develop a strategic vision for the Somerset Levels - to create a thriving, wildlife-rich landscape with farming taking place on the majority of the land (see here).  We want to work with decision-makers to turn this vision into reality.  Yes, this is partly about improving flood defences to protect lives, homes and properties but it is also about how we manage the land in the future.  Decisions being made imminently by Defra on how they spend the £15 billion of taxpayers' money over the next seven years can help reduce flood risk and help create more resilient land management practices (see here).
Q: Why hasn't the Environment Agency dredged?
A: That's a question for the Environment Agency to answer as they have to juggle many priorities against reduced budgets and staff.  They, along with all the emergency services, are doing a fantastic job in incredibly difficult circumstances.  Despite the unprecedented rainfall and tidal surges over the past two months, it is to their credit that so many of their flood prevention schemes across England have worked well.  
Q: People are claiming that you are putting birds before people?
A: At a time when people are suffering this is really unhelpful. We recognise that by working with nature and creating planned wetlands in the right places, these sites provide valuable flood defence. Along our coast and inland wetlands, we are working hard to prevent flooding and manage water better. But why shouldn't wildlife benefit too?  There are schemes that do benefit both people and wildlife - places like Medmerry on the Sussex coast where a new coastal defence scheme is protecting 350 properties while providing new coastal habitats for wildlife as well (see here).
Q: So who is to blame?
A: I don't think that this is the time to seek someone or something to blame.  This is a crisis and we must do what we can now to help those people affected.  Yet, when the waters subside we must think long and hard about how we plan to cope with future extreme weather events.  Scientists (see here) are clear that climate change will threaten wetter, milder, stormier winters and this must take this into account in our long term planning.  We have to find ways to live in harmony with nature while preparing to adapt to whatever climate chaos throws at us.

Or something like that.  You can never predict what happens when the adrenaline kicks in.  
But, while the rain continues to fall and the crisis continues, the 24 hours media will continue to ask questions.  Here's hoping they remain interested long after the floods have gone.
  • On the question of dredging I am not at all clear what this would actually achieve. As I understand it much of the Levels are at or slightly below sea level, so would dredging actually speed up water flow or would it simply create a deeper river with no increased flow? As I mentioned previously, this is a specialist subject outside the capabilities of the media and politicians.

    The issue of putting birds before people is,of course, totally irrelevant. No one, including the birds, wants the wholesale flooding that we currently have. This issue is just one more very large "red herring" generated by the media for their own purposes, which if we are not careful diverts people from the real issues that need to be addressed. These are,how to ensure that the wetland character of the Levels is preserved without the wholesale flooding and damage to people's property that we have at present.

    Finally, the blame culture!! Something in which this country specialises, and again, I am sorry to say, is lead by the media. The amounts of rain we have had have simply been unparalleled. No one could really have foreseen this weather. The simple conclusion is that we must learn from it but realised we may not have another event like this for at least 100 years or more.It is quite possible that this time next year there will be more blaming going on, but this time because we are short of water!!