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Environment Agency shores up flood defences in battered south-east



After the wettest British winter since records began in 1910 caused severe flooding across the country, the Environment Agency has completed a “health check” of defences on the south-east coastline.

Prolonged storms and heavy rainfall battered many parts of the UK from the Christmas period and into February, with many areas heavily flooded for weeks and even months.

Tidal surges put many flood defences on the south-east coast to the test, with waves hitting the coastline from Kent to Hampshire. Many of the worst flood hit assets were found in such areas, the Environment Agency says.

Among the sea defences that have now been repaired are those at Hythe Ranges in Kent and Pett Level beach in East Sussex.

The agency has also identified sites across Kent, east Hampshire and east and west Sussex that need further work. 

“Our teams have worked around the clock over the past few months repairing damage and maintaining flood defences to ensure they continue to protect people”, operations manager Mike O’Neill said.

“We have seen the devastation flooding has had on communities throughout the last year. That’s why it is crucial that we regularly maintain and repair flood defences to keep them working properly.”

During the wet winter months, the Environment Agency was heavily criticised for its handling of the flood further inland.

In the Somerset Levels, where some villages were cut off by high water for months, angry residents criticised the agency for failing to dredge local rivers, though some experts said this would not have helped the region. 

During the crisis, MPs and campaigners also questioned the wisdom of government-enforced cuts in the agency’s budget. In response, the chancellor George Osbone announced an additional £140m for the repair and maintenance of flood defences is welcome in his budget last month. 

The severe and prolonged nature of the floods drew much attention to the UK’s vulnerability to the elements. One study published in February ranked the UK as being the seventh most exposed nation to economic disruption caused by flooding.  

Whilst the UK was ranked as the 42nd country most at risk for physical exposure to flooding, high population density and the proximity of commercial centres, private property and infrastructure to areas of flood risk means it is one of the most economically vulnerable countries in the world.

Various polls showed that the crisis led to an increased concern about climate change amongst the public, as experts warned there is growing evidence that global warming will increase the chances of such flooding hitting the UK again.

Photo: Histman via flickr 

Further reading:

Flood insurance claims coming in at £6.7m a day, says ABI

Farmers need to be ‘much smarter’ on land use to prevent worst flooding

European flood losses could increase four-fold by 2050

Met Office: UK has had its wettest winter on record

Flooding poses risk to UK economy and could worsen with climate change