The memories of 2012 have unfortunately come flooding back (excuse the pun) to many in recent weeks and the Somerset Levels in particular seem to have taken the brunt in this area. The main road to Taunton is once again cut off and we see pictures of villagers being supplied with essential goods by boat.
No doubt the issue of dredging the main water courses more effectively will become a hot topic of conversation but it has to be remembered that winter flooding was a regular feature of farming on the levels in the past. The problem this time is that it has followed the devastating floods of 2012 which has left some farmers still recovering from the effects of those floods which started in April and continued on and off throughout the summer and beyond.
Such summer flooding is far more damaging than winter flooding because it occurs during the growing season, killing grass and other crops, preventing grazing and damaging soil structure when machinery or livestock cross waterlogged soils. This leads to short and long term impacts on the farmers affected. They not only lose summer grazing and fodder stocks which need to be replaced in order to maintain livestock numbers in the short term they also face the cost of re-establishing grass swards and sorting out the damage to the soil structure in the long term.
It is these latter issues which are most likely to cause some farmers particular problems now, in that the grass leys which were reseeded last year are still relatively immature and may not survive the winter flooding which older permanent pastures would probably survive relatively unscathed. The type of grass seed used will also be important in that some of the modern short term leys will struggle to survive periods of flooding whereas many of the old permanent pasture seed mixes are far more resistant to such conditions. However, such seed mixes are less productive and so farmers have to balance the risk flooding against the productivity of the grass.
So, although these floods will have been devastating for some I would suggest, provided they do not last too long, they will have done significantly less damage to farmland than was the case in 2012. But whether or not a farm has been flooded, the very wet conditions make looking after livestock in particular difficult. Out wintered stock need to be moved more regularly to prevent the land becoming poached, mud is everywhere hindering virtually everything you need to do, manure and slurry become difficult to handle in wet yards and rainwater fills the slurry lagoons threatening an overspill and yet it is difficult to spread the slurry on waterlogged land without causing soil damage and risking a pollution incident.
Thus, all in all wet weather just makes farming difficult and unpleasant work although most will be glad the rain did not come as snow – let’s just hope that is not what February has in store for us.
James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells
T: 01749 683381