The blame game

10th February 2014

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Adaptation ,
  • Environment agencies



Dwindling finances and a smaller workforce mean the Environment Agency will find it harder to provide flood protection in many areas. But that's not the fault of the agency, argues Paul Suff

The first month of 2014 was officially the wettest January on record in the southeast and central southern England. The Met Office reports that these areas received more than twice the average rainfall for the time of year in the first 28 days of 2014. Across the southwest and south Wales, January was the fifth wettest since records began in 1910. For the UK as a whole, the amount of rain that fell last month was 35% above the long-term average.

Images of huge swathes of England under water for several weeks, with no respite in sight, have placed flooding and the role of the Environment Agency in protecting vulnerable communities centre stage. Many of those living and working in the Somerset Levels, for example, whose homes have been flooded and livelihoods damaged, point the finger of blame at the agency. Its apparent failure to routinely dredge the local Tone and Parrett rivers and its expenditure on creating a wetland near the coast have been singled out as reasons why the Levels have been submerged this winter.

But if we want to apportion blame we need to look elsewhere. The agency reported in December 2013 that it routinely considers dredging and other types of watercourse channel management to reduce flood risk, and spends £20 million annually on dredging, desilting, removing gravel and obstructions along with weed control to clear channels. It also reports carrying out desilting work in October 2013 at five “pinch point” locations on the Tone and Parrett to improve flows.

Irrespective of whether more dredging would have stopped the Levels flooding on this occasion – and most experts believe that even river channels with a significantly larger capacity would not have coped with the amount of rain that fell throughout the first weeks of 2014 – the agency has to fund its river maintenance work from a rapidly declining pot of money.

Parliament’s environment committee reported in 2013 that the agency’s maintenance budget for 2013/14 was just under £70 million and for 2014/15 was set to be £60.7 million, concluding that since 2000 funding for maintenance activities had halved. Many agency officers have worked tirelessly since the high tides in early December brought the first round of winter floods. Yet, this year nearly 15% of the agency workforce will be made redundant following Defra’s decision to slash annual funding by £33.5 million.

Computer models suggest that climate change will increase winter precipitation in the UK and the country will be at risk of more frequent extreme weather, such as storm surges, so it must prepare for a greater risk of flooding. Dwindling finances and a smaller workforce will mean the agency will find it harder to provide the necessary flood protection in many areas. But that’s not the fault of the agency.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

How much is too much?

While there is no silver bullet for tackling climate change and social injustice, there is one controversial solution: the abolition of the super-rich. Chris Seekings explains more

4th April 2024

Read more

One of the world’s most influential management thinkers, Andrew Winston sees many reasons for hope as pessimism looms large in sustainability. Huw Morris reports

4th April 2024

Read more

Alex Veitch from the British Chambers of Commerce and IEMA’s Ben Goodwin discuss with Chris Seekings how to unlock the potential of UK businesses

4th April 2024

Read more

Regulatory gaps between the EU and UK are beginning to appear, warns Neil Howe in this edition’s environmental legislation round-up

4th April 2024

Read more

Five of the latest books on the environment and sustainability

3rd April 2024

Read more

Ben Goodwin reflects on policy, practice and advocacy over the past year

2nd April 2024

Read more

In 2020, IEMA and the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) jointly wrote and published A User Guide to Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. This has now been updated to include three key developments in the field.

2nd April 2024

Read more

Hello and welcome to another edition of Transform. I hope that you’ve had a good and productive few months so far.

28th March 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close