Here's a quote for you: "It's absolutely critical that maintenance dredging continues."
Who, do you suppose, might have offered this sage observation on the current state of play on the Somerset Levels? I will tell you, George: a senior Environment Agency official.That being the same Environment Agency, of course, which sold off all its dredging equipment because it declared that dredging the rivers Parrett and Tone was no longer necessary; that dredging wouldn't make a scrap of difference to the flood threat; and, indeed –as it tried to convince me – rivers that are half-clogged with silt are capable of draining away floodwater as much as those which have had the silt removed as a matter of routine.
Never, George, can there have been such a diametric switch of opinion in quite such a short space of time, though we do know why: it's because the evidence is irrefutable. Despite two small floods on the Levels this winter there was no huge problem because even though there was only a limited dredging programme last year the rivers did their job properly and got rid of the water.
Hence the assertion from the Environment Agency that we absolutely must have more of the same. Yes indeed: dredging is back in fashion. It's the new must-have, must-do. Except, of course, the Environment Agency won't be doing it because, it seems, it hasn't got any money. Well if it chooses to squander twenty or so million quid on a nature reserve that's hardly surprising.
What we should be hearing now, of course George, is some sort of apology for its failings, for its attempt to cover them up by creative interpretation of rainfall figures, and for driving scores of people from their homes – homes which now carry such enormous flood risk premiums that most of them can't even afford to take out cover (though on the other hand now the cause of the flooding has been identified and partly dealt with, they should as remain dry for more decades).
I'm not one for conspiracy theories, George, but it has to be said that if it were eventually proved that the halting of the dredging programme was in some way connected with an unwritten Natural England agenda to turn the whole of the Levels back into the kind of swamp not seen since the 14th century I wouldn't be surprised, particularly given the way some of Natural England's other policy decisions have fouled up parts of my constituency further west.
My last missive before we go into suspended animation, George, but I'm glad to have a positive report to make. All we need now is some decent Easter weather so people can get out and about and start spending money to help the tourism sector make up some of the ground it lost this time last year.
@anon in the comments: It looks like some West Somerset council folk aren't on Ian's Xmas card list either - and I'd say that's actually quite healthy - do all public sector folk have to present a united front regardless of the way they behave?