Somerset Levels river dredging plan welcomed by farmers

Flooding on the Somerset Levels at Glastonbury
Image caption The government plans to relax rules allowing farmers to dredge rivers to avoid flooding on the Somerset Levels

A government plan to allow landowners on the Somerset Levels to dredge rivers in a bid to avoid long-term flooding has been welcomed by farmers.

There were calls for more to be done to alleviate the problem since the region was beset by flooding last year.

The Environment Agency said it did not have the budget to dredge rivers but the government plans to relax the rules to allow farmers to do it themselves.

But some organisations voiced concerns about the effect on the environment.

Paul Knight of the Salmon and Trout Association said the plan could damage river beds and wildlife and urged for proper procedures to be put in place beforehand.

He said: "Farmers are expert at doing their job, but not necessarily conversant with how a river should work and the damage they could be doing by putting a digger in there."

But farmer John Hebditch said it would be welcome even though it "needed to be controlled".

Pilot scheme

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs intends to include provisions in the next Water Bill which would enable it to make it easier for farmers to undertake their own "watercourse maintenance" without harming the environment or increasing flood risk.

It said the scheme would be piloted and subject to consultation before being introduced in spring 2015.

A spokesman said: "We want farmers to be able to dredge rivers, if needed, without unnecessary cost or complication.

"We will liaise closely with environmental and angling groups to ensure that any changes we introduce do not harm the environment."

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