In 878 AD, King Alfred fled the Danes for the isle of Athelney in the Somerset Levels where legend has it, preoccupied with his problems, he burnt the cakes.

From there, he mounted a fierce resistance, uniting the peoples of Somerset and beyond to defeat the Viking invaders, and shaping the foundations that have ultimately led to the Britain we know today.

Fast forward over a millennium and the people of Somerset are facing an invader every bit as frightening and seemingly unstoppable – floods.

Relentless rain and high tides have turned the Somerset Levels into an inland sea – 65 million cubic metres of water, mile upon mile of flooded land with property and livelihoods at risk. Life for most locals has become hard, and for those whose homes have been flooded, miserably desperate. People are worried, tired and stressed.

A new vision for the future?

As the world’s media descended, some were quick to apportion blame – the lack of dredging, run-off from over development... even the conservationists, who surely put birds before people, didn’t they?

Disappearing gauge board. Photo by Peter Exley.

But quietly, steadily, a remarkable thing has happened.

People from all parts of the Levels communities have united behind a new vision for the future of the Levels, one that brings together farming, nature, business and communities: “We see the Somerset Levels and Moors in 2030 as a thriving, nature-rich wetland landscape, with grassland farming taking place on the majority of the land. The impact of extreme weather events is being reduced by land and water management in both the upper catchments and the flood plain and by greater community resilience.”

All in it together

So how could such unity emerge from apparent discord? From my perspective, it is that amazing human response to extreme adversity – to pull together, to find common ground with your neighbours, and to work together for the greater good.

And from the RSPB’s perspective, it is because we are firmly part of that community.

Our reserves have been under water for weeks, making access and management virtually impossible; many of our staff and volunteers face difficult journeys, some using boats or wading through floodwaters; a few have watched waters rise closer to their homes. We are all in this together.

And the consensus has been built by sharing experiences, talking things through, in pubs, farmyards and on Facebook and Twitter. Real people talking honestly and openly, building trust, giving support to each other. Because when the media eventually lose interest, the community will still be here, needing solutions.

Levels spirit

I feel Alfred would have recognised this resilience and determination in the face of adversity, the determination to overcome your problems: the Levels Spirit.

The Somerset Levels are a brilliant place – you’ve got it all here: wonderful nature (the largest flock of cranes, huge starling murmurations, stunning wetlands brim full of bitterns, otters, water voles and breeding waders), historic wonders (Glastonbury Abbey, the world’s oldest human trackway), superb food and drink, and a unique natural, cultural landscape.

This new vision is the people of the Levels saying “we want a brighter future”.

  • Im so sorry for the suffering caused by this flooding but its quite simple for the future--do right by the environment and the birds and other animals that call it home and it will be good for people too.Apply some common sense ie dont build houses on flood plains and we will have an environment that can cope with the diversity of mother nature. I support your vision - make it reality .