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« Diary date, Senate edition | Main | A right royal contradiction »

Harrabin on the Royal report

Roger Harrabin has an interesting take on the Royal Society extreme weather report, picking up on what is in fact a fairly minor point in the report - namely the response to floods in the Somerset Levels - but in doing so putting things in a very stark light.

...the authors of a Royal Society report on resilience to extreme weather have told BBC News that they believe the campaign to protect the Levels prompted politics to override science.

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.

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.

In essence, the scientists seem to be saying that GCMs, with no proven ability to tell us anything about precipitation, are sending out a message that the Levels can no longer be maintained and protected from extreme rainfall.

You can see why the farmers might be a bit annoyed.

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Reader Comments (46)

" they question whether investment to protect farmland is the best use of public money"

No, better to give it to third world politicians.

Nov 27, 2014 at 11:15 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Why not just cover the levels in solar panels?

Nov 27, 2014 at 11:20 AM | Unregistered Commenterbluebear

... better to give it to third world politicians.
... or Jeremy Grantham or the climate "scientists" or Greenpeace or ...
If you use it to protect farmland then you might improve the world's food supply which might make their argument that we can't feed the projected 11 billion people we will have by mid-century even more of a lie than it already is.
The sooner we find some way of undermining this rent-seeking bunch of charlatans the better.

Nov 27, 2014 at 11:22 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Harrabin at his worse, how he clams such things when he has zero qualifications.

The flooding was man made in that dredging was stopped, sluices were left closed, and a local idiot opened a sluice gate to ensure his land remained clear but increased flooding in nearby land. Owen Patterson was the only MP who understood the problems and started the recovery but they got rid of him so I expect the situation to revert to flooding anytime soon.

Nov 27, 2014 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

'An Environment Agency spokesman said the towns could be protected independently from the Levels. He said it has cost an extra £10m to dredge the rivers and improve local defences, which prior to the floods were further down the queue of national priorities. '

Where do you even start with this.......

Nov 27, 2014 at 11:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

Meanwhile, the actual data shows that long term rainfall trends in the South West are declining slightly.

Nov 27, 2014 at 11:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Homewood

The hubris in that article whether Roger intended it or not, since he was reporting on what academics said, was thick and deep as the floods. As a physicist I'll be clear here: the Royal Society should STFU. They has vastly overstepped their boundaries.

The people that manage and live on the Levels tend to know best how to manage and live there. Farmers should be front and centre when taking about application of theory. Which is all climate science can give. I didn't see any talk of how they consulted engineers and dredgers themselves. Just as the Bish alludes too it seems like model ideas are taken as fact.

Next week: the return of There Will Be No More Bumblebees As Clearly They Cannot Fly.

Nov 27, 2014 at 11:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterMicky H Corbett

Two people have been successfully prosecuted for opening the sluices into the Somerset Levels so was definitely an anthopomorphic event

Nov 27, 2014 at 11:44 AM | Unregistered Commenteranng

Perhaps we should relocate the BBC and the RS to the Somerset Levels?

Nov 27, 2014 at 11:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

So...who's calling for inaction now?

Nov 27, 2014 at 11:58 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Further to 'anng' above:

Nov 27, 2014 at 12:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterChGr53

Hmmm... in terms of prediction - this was a sure bet as the BBC were trumpeting the same stuff (and more - [snip - manners]) when the flooding was actually happening. Not everybody at the BBC swallowed the stage management - but mostly it was appalling propaganda.

The local AGW shills at BBC Bristol (Points West) were running regular Climate Change bilge items the from obliging stage stuck academics at "new universities" directly against floods coverage - and there was Moonbat on Panorama etcetera.

In terms of extreme wevvah - it would have been delicious if Harrabin had swallowed and regurgitated the EA chairperson Chris Smiff's idiotic assertion that flooding was due to AGW triggered + hitherto unseen "Wrong Type of Rain" - we're left with the customary sly garbage... how much is he paid?

Nov 27, 2014 at 12:21 PM | Registered Commentertomo

In the same manner that the locals know best Harrabin proves that Government control is more important to the Socialist environmentalists than the issue.

A good read in the Telegraph to bring back some reality!

Nov 27, 2014 at 12:32 PM | Registered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

Does Harrabin ever report a science story based on evidence?

It seems to me that GCMs fail the validation test, i.e. the ability to hindcast and forecast observations of the system they are modelling. Is this not a fact or is it in dispute? I assume that temperature is the most important parameter in a model aimed at showing the consequence of greenhouse warming.

Why does the science community not reject papers based on such models? Why does the RS endorse conclusions based on the models? What has happened to science? Why do we put up with this madness?

Nov 27, 2014 at 12:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

Lord Beaverbrook

Yes it is a good read, might get a wide airing in the next few weeks:-

Arctic Oscillation Analysis and Forecasts - November 25, 2014

"........ However, renewed warming of the polar cap favors a negative trend in the AO. With cold air expanding in Western Siberia we see increasing risks of an Arctic outbreak into Europe in week 2 and beyond......."

Nov 27, 2014 at 12:42 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

Th Dutch can do it and supplied pumps last year.

Seems the Brits can't do much at all except trough a lot. Look after newts?

Nov 27, 2014 at 12:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

The dead hand of the EU was the primary cause of the flooding of the levels, under the Habitats Directive & the Water Directive, implemented by over weaning bureaucrats that is the British way, as they do so love regulations! When is somebody going to stand up against this BS from the BBC et al?

Nov 27, 2014 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Next week: the return of There Will Be No More Bumblebees As Clearly They Cannot Fly.
Totally O/T, but Reginald Hill's "There are No Ghosts in the Soviet Union" is a compelling read. Reg created Dalziel and Pascoe, and is an autodidact of awesome proportions.

Re Harrabin - "but experts said"? What experts? What did they say, exactly? When and how did they say it?

The sheer sloppiness and lack of professionalism of so-called journalists like Harrabin significantly reduces the speculation about why the Old Media is in its death throes.

Nov 27, 2014 at 1:10 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Did you forget to use his title ...

Greenblob spokesman Harrabin has an interesting take on the Royal Society ...?

Nov 27, 2014 at 1:11 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

Ex-expat Colin "Look after newts?"

Not the ones under the A34 round Newbury - a bit of a downpour flooded the drains on the bridge and overflowed into the 'protected' newts' marsh below.

Unintended consequences everywhere.....

Nov 27, 2014 at 1:15 PM | Unregistered Commenteranng

Next week: the return of There Will Be No More Bumblebees As Clearly They Cannot Fly.
Coming soon: Breeding Dodos For Pleasure and Profit.

Nov 27, 2014 at 1:18 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

I notice that there is never any opportunity for comment on Harrabin's doom-laden pieces on the BBC website...

Wonder why..?

Nov 27, 2014 at 2:00 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Does Harrabin ever report a science story based on evidence?

No, He hasn't any, how could he ? What I hate most is his smarmy grin as if he knows he is lying.

Nov 27, 2014 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

I spent a career perusing maps of the Somerset levels. Even the untrained eye can see that the settlements are on islands in an inlet. The complex network of rhynes and drains show a system engineered by man over centuries. To say therfore that this cannot be maintained is arrant nonsense. Environmentalists are what the now largely silent Prof Stott, as presentists, who lack any cognition of the passage of time compared to their careers. The same can be applied to politicians and journalists.

Nov 27, 2014 at 3:21 PM | Unregistered Commentertrefjon

It's more cost effective to try to fix atmospheric co2 than to fix the drainage channels?

The stupid it burns.

Nov 27, 2014 at 3:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterclovis marcus

The question is not whether it is possible to protect the Levels. Invest enough £billion and you could protect them.

The question is whether it is worth the cost.Perhaps all those billions you want to spend chasing the mirage of cheap shale gas could be invested in flood defences instead.

Nov 27, 2014 at 5:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Do you know anything about the Somerset Levels or the Fens or how they are managed? (I'm no expert myself, I admit).
From what I do know and have read all that is needed is to continue the maintenance programme that has served the areas well for several hundred years. Billions of pounds are not needed.
In a severe winter there will be more flooding than in a less severe winter but provided that local landowners don't play silly buggers and the head of the Environment Agency doesn't stop dredging and neglect the sluices because of some misguided demand by Brussels to leave everything to go back to nature in the totally incorrect belief that that will somehow benefit wildlife then everything will be in order and everyone will be happy.
Except the EU and the RSPB and other organisations that wouldn't know a Level or a Fen from a skinny latte. No, that last is untrue; the one thing they probably would recognise is a skinny latte.
There is no evidence (I say for the thousandth time) that current UK weather is anything to get het up about and it's time we stopped giving any credence to those who insist that there is.

Nov 27, 2014 at 6:53 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

@EM "Perhaps all those billions you want to spend chasing the mirage of cheap shale gas could be invested in flood defences instead."

Or perhaps the billions being wasted on useless, inefficient 'renewable' energy projects should be invested in flood defences. The Somerset Levels and the Fens make up a significant part of the 63% of the UK agricultural land that is used for arable crops and permanent downland pasture - if we lose these, we are going to have to become even more dependent on imported food.

Nov 27, 2014 at 7:08 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

O/T but interesting - Last month Shropshire Council, rejected a planning application for a solar farm near Acton Scott. The developers have today re-submitted a new application. The original was for a 54-acre farm producing 6.5 MW, the new one is for a 27-acre farm producing 5MW. Work that one out if you can?

Nov 27, 2014 at 7:25 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

Looks as a self fulfilling prophecy. More floods will come so why maintain the canals, and then you surely get more floods, even if it does not rain more.

Nov 27, 2014 at 8:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterSvend Ferdinandsen

Well, there's one thing you can't fault Harrabin for:
Omitting to discuss resilience to freezing conditions, ice, and heavy snowfalls.

That's because the report didn't consider these as subjects worthy of discussion either. They briefly mentioned snow-melt at one point. That's was it. You're on your own, it would seem.

Having said that, who would want to take advice on the matter from such a cave of cyclopes?

Nov 27, 2014 at 8:07 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Harrabin would be wise not to go to the Netherlands and espouse his defeatest views. He might find he has more than a finger inserted into his dyke.

Nov 27, 2014 at 9:35 PM | Unregistered Commenterivor ward

Mike Jackson

I grew up in the Fens. The agricultural land is peaty soil which has shrunk since the Fens were drained. The shrinkage is due to three factors. The land is drying to depth and shrinking as it does so, the peat is decomposing and the dry surface tends to dry and blow away on the wind. Average altitude about 1m above sea level. The result is that the drainage channels are above the land. I could take you to places where the boats are moored two metres higher than the road.

The system is maintained by continuous pumping. Historically this was by windmills , ,then steam engines and now a mix of diesel and electric pumps.Fields drain into adjacent ditches which are emptied into the larger channels. Release to the sea or adjacent rivers is via sites such as Denver Sluice and dependant on low tides. So far the Fens have avoided major flooding, mostly because they have almost the lowest annual rainfall in the UK, about 19" a year. There is very little risk of flooding due to rainfall draining from elsewhere; storm surges are the threat. Villages in the fens tend to be on whatever relatively high ground can be found. It is no accident that one of the main fenland towns is called the Isle of Ely.

Is this worth defending? I would think yes. The Fens cover 1500 square miles and contain half the Grade1 land in England. It produces cereals, potatoes and other high value crops.

The future problem for the Fens is twofold. Firstly the continued lowering of the land surface increases the head of water for pumping from the fields. second, a combination of isostatic sinkage and rising sea level is raising sea level relative to the sluices. In the short term this reduces the time around low tide when the sluices can be opened.

In the long term sluices, coastal barriers and possibly the drainage channel levees will need to be rebuilt to withstand higher storm surge levels.most of the would be upgrading existing infrastructure.

Now compare this with the Somerset Levels. These cover 150 square miles of mostly pasture land, averaging 6 metres above sea level. Adjacent hills drain across the lower land through rivers and artificial channels which tend to be above land level in flood. Most drainage is natural rather than pumped and the rainfall is 28" a year, half again the Fens. Flood threats are from upland drainage after heavy rain and storm surges coming up the rivers. The 2014 floods were primarily due to an unfortunate combination of both. A series of deep depressions produced heavy rain and then storm surgea coinciding with high river levels.

Is this worth defending. You would need new sluices, higher coastal barriers, water storage reservoirs in the hills and higher levees on the rivers and drainage channels. You would probably need permanent pumps as well. Much of this would be new build.

Is it worth it? The investment in the Fens took place over 200 years. For the Somerset Levels you at looking at a comparable defences/square mile cost in one decade, for land with much lower value and productivity. Politically this might be acceptable, but the economic case is probably not justifiable. If you want to invest in flood protection there are other flood prone areas which would benefit more from the same investment.

Nov 27, 2014 at 9:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man


I think you're over-egging The Levels issues mightily. AIUI most sane folk over there would be happy if maintenance (That is actually PAID for) was simply done.

The EA did not hold their end up - at all (OK they got pumps and teams in at 1 am). Few are expecting "no flooding - ever" - but most expect that continuation of maintenance would ensure shorter duration and likely not so high so often episodes. Again - AIUI - the EA';s own modelling unequivocally supports this scenario. Tidal barrages and so forth are add-ons to placate *very angry* voters - and persuade them not to dig any deeper.

The locals want control of their own drainage (and the consequences thereof) - the EA fought that - and comprehensively failed to deliver as a result of multiple failures and the antics of execs - in particular Babs Young when chairperson. The high-handedness and plain rudeness of EA officials with regard to Somerset drainage has been epic. I have liitle truck actually with the EU directives thing - since EA officials have a track record littered with arbitrary enforcement mostly at their own whim.

The correction might be going OTT - but what preceded it was over 20 years inexcusable hubris, negligence and neglect. The EA is categorically not fit for purpose - see here If you believe any costings coming from the government side (i.e. the EA) bear in mind they wanted to charge £14.5M for a £750K job.... and in my case £37K for £600 worth of FoI -> go figure that out....

btw - who controls the Fens drainage?

Nov 27, 2014 at 10:21 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Harrabin = no engagement, no comments allowed. Taking the p:ss. Out of all of us.

The only solution is to not pay the licence fee. You do not have to pay. Do not pay.

Nov 28, 2014 at 5:12 AM | Unregistered Commenterjolly farmer

Thanks for the lesson (no, seriously!).
Trouble is you lost me at "sluices, coastal barriers and possibly the drainage channel levees will need to be rebuilt to withstand higher storm surge levels"
What higher storm surge levels would those be? The ones in Prof Jones' PlayStation™, perhaps?

Nov 28, 2014 at 8:48 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Entropic man what billions ?
The only billions involved is the money that may be made by selling any gas from fracking .
Meanwhile the USA is enjoying a reduction in energy costs in part becasue of fracking not because of chasing a renewble dream. But to be fair that is the stuff of green nightmares.

Nov 28, 2014 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered Commenterknr

Mike Jackson

Sorry, old teacher reflexes. :-)

Globally sea level is rising on average by 3.2mm/year. In places this is much higher or much lower due to local conditions. In the SE of the UK the land is also sinking.

The long term problem for the Uk is not normal tides, it is storm surges when wind, low pressure and local geography pull sea level well above normal and existing sea defences are overtopped. This happened in the North Sea in the 1950s and produced flooding in Norfolk and the Netherlands. It happened in the North Sea again in 2014, but improved defences were just enough to hold it. It happened in 2014 in the Irish Sea, flooding, among others, Aberystwyth sea front and the Somerset levels.

An underlying rise in sea level makes a given level of storm surge more likely and increases the probability that existing defences will be overtopped.

In the long term most existing sea defences are likely to become inadequate. If we allow temperatures to rise to Eemian levels (+1-2C), sooner or later we will get Eemian sea levels (+4-6M).

At that level the Somerset Levels become mudflats and the Fens become an estuary.

Nov 28, 2014 at 10:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Mike Jackson

You don't need a computer. The relation between temperature and sea level is very simple.

Most of Earth's surface water is ice on land, or ocean.

Raise the temperature; you get less ice and more ocean.

Lower the temperature; you get more ice and less ocean.

Hence low temperatures bring low sea levels and high temperatures bring high sea levels.

Nov 28, 2014 at 11:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

"The relation between temperature and sea level is very simple." If that were true then judging from this graph there have been no variations in warming trend trend since the end of the last ice ace. It would say we've never been warmer since the last interglacial. Do you really believe that?

Nov 28, 2014 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Professor Paul Yates was on Harrabin's tv piece about the Somerset Levels yesterday, stating loud and clear that we should protect homes and not farmland..

I see - so presumably he doesn't need to eat..?

Nov 28, 2014 at 12:32 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Another intellectual dwarf who hasn't realised what actually happened on the Levels last winter.
Presumably reading court reports is beneath him.

Tidal surges in 1953 and again in 2014 — how much to mitigate a 1 in 60 years event?
I agree with you up to a point. Flood defences need to be kept at whatever level is determined by realistic risk assessments. Where you and I appear to differ is that I simply do not see the impending catastrophe that is coming out of the climate alarmists' models.
We know to what extent land levels are sinking and sea levels are rising. Both are reasonably constant. What they may be in the future and on what sort of timescale has yet to be determined. Keeping the defences maintained will give plenty of time to improve them as and when necessary.
To be blunt, I really am getting ****ing sick to the back teeth of supposdly intelligent men (see my comment above) who have made it their business to tell us — on no evidence and frequently on subjects outwith their scientific competence (Yates is an ophthalmologist, ffs) — that disaster is going to happen tomorrow unless we immediately do something yesterday.
Note please that it is always "may", "might" or "could" and it is always some indeterminate time 10, 20, or 50 years away but action is always needed now!
And we keep on falling for this guff!

Nov 28, 2014 at 1:23 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Mike Jackson

The EA has a plan for the Fens. :)

Regarding a tidal surge, this is now considered a 1 in 500 event and as such would not in their opinion justify the building of a tidal Barrier at Kings Lynn, rather requiring that maintenance of the river banks be continued. Drainage of the tidal regions of the rivers downs to Earith does have problems due to silting of the Bedford river and River Great Ouse below Denver. This slows the discharge of the Welney Washes (used as a winter water catchment area) which causes local grief and roads can be impassable plus adding to flood risk. It now looks like they plan to increase the flushing of the rivers using the sluices at Denver. The sluice that links to the Ouse had been silted up for a while making this problematic but it looks like this has now been addressed. Overall, it looks that provided maintenance is carried out over the next 100 years with some of it not being required for quite a few decades then all should be well. The silting up of the tidal stretches has been a concern for the local drainage boards for some time but it looks like some action is now occurring. There was a recent meeting of local MPs and Councillors and EA etc that obtained commitments for the silt clearance activities.

Nov 28, 2014 at 5:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterMick J

Mick J
There was some talk of transferring management of rivers (dunno which ones) from EA to the CRT (Canal and Rivers Trust - successors to British Waterways).
I don't whether the East Anglian rivers were part of this or not. I'd trust them to do a decent job before I'd trust the EA but if what you say comes to pass it should be good enough.
We must always remember that there are more people with clout in East Anglia than there are in Somerset, including not a few very influential farmers!

Nov 28, 2014 at 6:07 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Oh dear - lots of navel gazing now that EM is back; he really does bring out the worst in people. For the low-land flooding, John Marshall is spot on except that the sluices are even more - much more - important than the dredging. The water has to get to the sea and we are fortunate to have tidal ranges that permit flood water to drain for at least
six hours out of every twelve hour tidal cycle. And keeping sluices in good working order doesn't cost "billions" - just a few thousand on a regular basis. Concerning the surges, lets remember that "high" tides only occur at the springs and then only for an hour or so each side of HW.

Nov 29, 2014 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterVernon E

The frustrating thing when you corner one of these RS luminaries is that none of them seem to know any of the actual science that they pretend to. It's so easy to catch them out by pointing to a paper that contradicts their assertions but yet they still never bother to think "oops, maybe I should actually read something about this then before I mouth off again". All they really have are innate pessimistic gut feelings about everything and anything to do with industry.

Dec 1, 2014 at 1:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

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