Glastonbury Tor reflected in floodwaters

‘Glastonbury by the sea’, part of Wearyall Hill in the background.

RIVER BRUE AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Information leaflet, August 2019

In 2006 a glossy coffee table book entitled The Somerset Wetlands – An Ever Changing  Environment was published by Somerset Books. Its editors and contributors include an  impressive list of historians and archaeologists, biologists and naturalists, scientists and  researchers from every relevant discipline, as well as farmers and others with specialist  local  knowledge. The last section of Somerset Wetlands is devoted to ideas about the future, and  it includes attractive colour photographs of water buffalo, rice paddies, banana trees, pelicans and even a crocodile.

Perhaps more seriously, the concluding article questions whether dairy farming on the Levels will continue to be viable, and suggests an inevitable return to genuine wetlands. It includes this statement about successfully adapting to the likely changes: “We need to learn to live  better with water … by acknowledging the role the land has as an asset in terms of storing and managing flood-water. We need to make proper, integrated use of the whole wetlands  catchment, recognising how management of the upland areas can impact upon the lower  floodplain – for example by the creation of habitats which slow the rate of run-off into the  floodplain”.

The changing climate means that warmer air holds more water, resulting in more rain. It can also produce more storms: when the weather gets warmer then the change in temperature between land and sea is differential – land and sea do not warm up at the same rate. So the more extreme the temperatures, the greater the difference in temperature will be between land and sea, and in the air above that land and sea. The result, on the edge of a continent with prevailing winds blowing onto the land, is increasing storms.

Extreme weather events are beginning to occur more often. Sea levels are rising; rainfall is increasing overall; and the weather is getting warmer, with the likelihood of greater periods of drought between more severe floods. All of this appeared in a Department of the Environment Review of the Potential Effects of Climate Change as long ago as 1996. Included amongst the Environment Agency’s possible responses are “reduction in service” and “managed retreat”. Both of these are still retained as options.

There is a delay between carbon emissions entering the atmosphere and the warming effects taking place. Predictions reported in the New Scientist in July 2015 – based on effects believed to be already ‘locked in’ – are that, with antarctic ice sheets likely to collapse, sea levels could rise over the next few decades by five or six metres. This equates to a mean sea level in the Brue valley that would reach Pomparles Bridge between Glastonbury and Street, and high tide reaching as far as Baltonsborough. Since 2015, CO2 emissions have continued and the release of methane into the atmosphere, a far more potent greenhouse gas, may now be unstoppable.