'We need support': Flood-ravaged communities on the England-Wales border feel left behind

  • Environment Correspondent Charlotte Cross reports on the flood-ravaged communities along the England-Wales border

Flood-ravaged communities along the River Severn have slammed a cross-border scheme between English and Welsh authorities for moving too slowly as water levels surge following heavy rain in the region.

The Severn Valley Flood Management Scheme involves government agencies and councils on both sides of the border, and was launched at the end of 2020.

But more than three years later, and despite being awarded £10 million in government funding, campaigners have said they’ve yet to see any progress.

The latest State of the UK Climate report suggests the UK has become noticeably wetter, with the years 2011 to 2020 seeing 9% more rainfall than the years 1961 to 1990.

“I think there was a recent update on their website, but then there’s been very little in the last year,” said Siobhan Connor, of the Shrewsbury Flood Action Group.

“There’s a real lack of information. I want to see timelines, when this is happening, what we can expect… I think this is probably 20 years away, but the frequency of flooding is getting higher and higher.”

Among those who are feeling the effects are residents in Shrewsbury, including Sarah Jackaman, whose cottage in Montford Bridge has been flooded 17 times in 20 years.

After a winter of severe floods, Sarah's house in Shrewsbury is still drying out, and the especially cold weather has meant that it has taken longer than usual.

Sarah does everything she can and spends thousands of pounds of her own money to put flood barriers up.

Pictured is Sarah's house before and after flooding hits. Credit: ITV Central

She’s become accustomed to moving her furniture upstairs, or onto stilts - has had to make huge changes to the building itself to help keep it as resilient as possible.

But there’s no way to stop the water getting in.

"The water level through the house reaches just above the ankle level," she said.

"The flooring has been relaid, so we’ve put terracotta ceramic tiles down.

"We’ve put flood barriers on the doors. And we’ve actually changed the paint and the plaster that we use, so that it’s more resilient to the flooding.

"It makes the clean-up much easier afterwards too."

The increased frequency of flooding is linked to climate change, as heavier, fiercer storms occur more often than they used to.

To try and tackle it, various agencies came together, including the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales and local authorities, to form the Severn Valley Water Management Scheme.

But despite being given £10 million pounds in funding, more than three years on, local Flood Action Groups say they've yet to see any progress.

Ed Tate runs the Isle Farm, which is surrounded by a loop of the Severn, meaning he has to find ways to survive with regular flooding.

Each time the water rises and his land floods, it costs him around £10,000 in clean up costs, while wheat yields are expected to be around 20% lower this year.

Pictured is only a small amount of the damage that flood water does to Sarah's home in Shropshire. Credit: ITV Central

He estimates challenges like this risk around 40% of small and medium-sized farms across the UK.

He said: "We’re all in this together, whether you're a householder or a business. We've got climate change, we've got biodiversity loss, we’ve got food and water security challenges,” he said.

"As farmers, as land managers, we’re very well positioned to give us food security and that environmental security. But we need support. It costs money.

"If we're to address the effects of climate change, we need grown-up governance - we need to talk across borders.

"We need to work out a way that financing can cross borders.

"So that, at every point, we can actually manage water right the way down from source to sea on the Severn."

"We need to talk about borders. We need to work out a way that financing can cross borders. So at every point we can actually manage water right the way down from source to sea on the Severn."

In response an Environment Agency spokesperson insisted that cross-border thinking was already happening.

"In recent months, we have formalised our partnership with Natural Resources Wales, Powys County Council and Shropshire Council to agree a strategic approach to cross-border working, supported by Welsh Government and Defra."

"This year, the Severn Valley Water Management Scheme and partners will launch a comprehensive programme of engagement to further support the development of a long-term Strategy and approach, which will help create resilient communities and natural environments across the region.”

A spokesperson for Natural Resources Wales said: "As climate change brings more frequent and more extreme weather conditions, the challenges of managing water will increase, and we will need to look at a combination of measures to manage flood risk.

"This means making big decisions about where development is allowed, and making properties more resilient to flood water.

"We’ll also need to be more innovative and look at harnessing nature-based solutions to flooding and work more effectively with landowners, and taking catchment-scale approaches to make space for the huge quantities of water we are seeing during floods.“

While we will never be able to stop all flooding, NRW is committed to working with the Environment Agency, Local Authorities, water companies and with communities along the River Severn as part of a collective effort to manage the risk of flooding and build resilience for the future for those communities at the greatest risk.”

But for people affected by the flood - people like Siobhan, Sarah, and Ed - this still spells a lack of tangible action - meaning they’re simply left to wait for the next time the river levels begin to rise.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…