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Somerset church leaders write to PM on floods

28 February 2014

By a staff reporter


Boots on: the Prime Minister arrives at a pumping operation on the Somerset Levels near Othery, Bridgwater, on a visit. He said that recovering from the crisis would be a "very long haul"

Boots on: the Prime Minister arrives at a pumping operation on the Somerset Levels near Othery, Bridgwater, on a visit. He said that recovering from...

CHURCH leaders in Somerset, one of the counties worst affected by recent storms and flooding, have written to the Prime Minister to call for measures to be taken to prevent any repetition of an emergency on this scale.

They acknowledge that flooding has long been a frequent occurrence in low-lying areas of the Somerset Levels, and would continue to be, but said: "The floods do not need to last as long as these have."

Some villages on the Levels have been cut off for more than seven weeks (News, 14, 7 February).

The letter, signed by the Bishop of Taunton, the Rt Revd Peter Maurice, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton, the Rt Revd Declan Lang, and other church leaders, calls on the Government to examine new building schemes to ensure that they do not place extra pressure on the rivers, and says that the rivers must be dredged. Tree-planning must also be encouraged, it urges, as trees absorb 60 per cent more rainfall than pasture.

"We call on the Government to ensure that an integrated policy for the management of the water courses of Somerset be developed which involves all stakeholders and acknowledges local conditions and needs. In the mean time we commit our local churches to continue to help and assist all in need."

The letter says that the crisis has proved once again the "resilience" of people living in the Levels and surrounding areas.

As floodwater recedes in other areas, some churches are havingto postpone funerals, because the ground is still waterlogged. At St Michael's, Tilehurst, in Berkshire, funerals have been postponed, as graves are being flooded because of high groundwater levels.

The chief executive of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management, Tim Morris, said that he had never known cemeteries to be so badly affected by weather in his 30 years in the industry.

He said: "As soon as you start to dig, the graves fill with water, and of course that's not only difficult for funerals: it's also quite dangerous for the gravediggers to dig down six or seven feet, with water coming in and potentially the sides of the excavation collapsing."

The diocese of Chichester has launched a flood appeal, and all churches will be asked to pray this Sunday and next for farmers in Sussex and those across the UK who have been affected by the weather.

In a joint letter, the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, and the Bishop of Horsham, the Rt Revd Mark Sowerby, wrote: "Often when we pray for victims of natural disaster overseas, forced from their homes by earthquake or storm, we don't imagine that something even remotely similar could happen in the UK. But many of us have been deeply moved by the plight of farmers and others working the land, a hard living at the best of times, who have suffered from the excessive rain and flooding that our country has experienced this winter."

A church in Surrey has become the first recipient of a grant from the county's Flood Recovery Appeal, administered by the Community Foundation. St John the Baptist, Egham, runs The Kitchen, a community café, which gave free hot food and drinks to all people affected by the flooding (News, 21 February). The £2000 grant will be used to buy more supplies for those who still can't return to their homes.

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