They say those resident on the Levels may have to get used to living with floods, and they question whether investment to protect farmland is the best use of public money.
“These so-called experts haven’t got a clue what they are talking about. We are used to being flooded – but we don’t expect to get ignored for so long”
James WinsladeSomerset farmer
Some local farmers have reacted angrily, saying the academics fail to understand the complex geography of the Levels, and arguing that the water management system installed in the 1960s should be maintained.
But experts said that in a world of climate change, people must reconsider previous expectations for managing land.
The two flood experts on the Royal Society resilience report were asked by BBC News how global lessons might be applied to Somerset.
One, Prof Paul Bates from Bristol University, said: “There was completely disproportionate attention on the Somerset Levels. About 150 homes were flooded compared with 6-10,000 nationwide. Local farmers lobbied very effectively, seized the agenda and got the Environment Agency to overturn its policy of not dredging.
“But the agency’s policy was the right one. This is a massive seasonally-flooded wetland and dredging would have made only a marginal difference. It could even make matters worse if it shunts the water somewhere else.”
“There’s huge demand for flood protection in the UK. It’s not cost-effective to use public money protecting agricultural land.”
“Some places you need to learn to live with water, accept mentally that it will flood… or just pull out”
Prof Rob NichollsSouthampton University:
“We should be looking for greater resilience – perhaps by re-routing transport links, or making individual homes flood-proof, or maybe raising roads if that proves cost-effective.”
“In the end,” he said, “we may have to compensate people living there to move away completely”