More heavy rain and high tides are to hit the south and west of the UK, bringing further flooding, as experts warn that the UK will not be able to protect all areas from the future impacts of climate change.
Environment secretary Owen Paterson has urged people to “pay close attention” to weather forecasts, as what is already the wettest January on record in many southern areas looks set to continue.
The Met Office says that heavy rain is expected in areas of southern England, south Wales and parts of Northern Ireland.
The Environment Agency has issued 42 flood warnings, saying that many coastal areas – including Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Bristol and south Gloucestershire – will be hit by high tides in the next few days.
Among the areas likely to be most affected are the already heavily flooded Somerset Levels, where the Met Office has warned residents to be prepared for “significant disruption”.
The Levels have become the focus of much attention in recent days, after residents confronted the visiting environment secretary. Many villages in the area have been cut off for weeks, with about 11,500 hectares flooded beneath 65m cubic metres of water.
However, to the likely despair of residents, the Environment Agency said on Friday it will be months before dredging work in the area can begin, as the floodwater must sufficiently recede first.
In addition, flooding experts have warned that the increasing frequency and severity of flooding that will likely be caused by climate change may mean the Levels will eventually have to be abandoned to the sea.
“You are looking at retreat”, Prof Colin Thorne of the University of Nottingham told the Guardian.
“It is the only sensible policy – it makes no sense to defend the indefensible. Can the Somerset Levels be defended between now and the end of the century? No.”
Hannah Cloke, associate professor in hydrology at the University of Reading, agreed, saying “We could make the choice to protect the Levels forever, but that is going to take a lot of resources. My gut feeling is that you are going to have to let that be a marshland in the end.”
Earlier this week, the government was criticised by environmental campaigners after a freedom of information request revealed that climate change adaptation spending by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had fallen from £29.1m in 2012/13 to £17.2m in 2013/14.
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