BBC Somerset carried pictures of flash flooding in the county. Turning to the Flood Information Service, the area threatened seemed extensive. From Yeovil, which lies on the border with Dorset, to Steart, where the River Parrett reaches the Bristol Channel.
Flooding is possible – be prepared
Flood alert for Rivers Yeo and Parrett, downstream of Yeovil to Steart
Updated 12:12am on 10 May 2023
Flooding is possible in this area. Monitor local water levels and weather conditions. Avoid using low lying footpaths or entering areas prone to flooding. Start acting on your flood plan if you have one. Environment Agency Flood Warning Officers set the river or tidal levels that have triggered this message.
Flood alert area: River Yeo from downstream of Yeovil to Langport, the River Parrett from Langport to Steart, the Rivers Cary and Sowy, the Kings Sedgemoor Drain and other rhynes and drains in the area.
The floods will not present the danger they once posed. In the 1960s, pumping stations were built across the Somerset Levels.
When I was a child, the pumping stations seemed like battleships in hostile waters, protecting the farms and the villages against the rising floods. They seemed always there; although a second thought about the buildings would have told even someone who knew nothing of architecture or engineering that they were recent arrivals on the scene. A government website says they were built in the 1960s and that there are twenty-one pumping stations in Somerset. Prosaic in appearance, the grey concrete and steel adding to the childhood impression of their being like naval vessels, they possessed a sense of mystery for someone who would rarely pass a day without seeing one of them.
The pumping stations seemed always to be isolated, probably a not unreasonable impression. Even the one at Westover, on the edge of the town of Langport, seems to stand at a remove, as though it were keeping a respectful distance from the other buildings of the town. Of course, given that its work is flood prevention, it is hardly likely anyone would have built on the hinterland of a station; were there a pumping station at the end of a street, the street would be in the wrong place.
The pumping stations seemed to capture the spirit of the place. Like buildings on a seashore, they stood at the margins of dry land and water. The Somerset Levels are lands claimed by hard work; they are flatlands that were once bog and marsh, expanses of wetness, tracts of water. They are still summer lands from which herds might be withdrawn when the winter rainfall comes.
Like the childishly-imagined battleships that were guarding a coast, the pumping stations represent a battle to hold on to the land dear to those who work it. Farming on the Levels is very different from that in many places; it is always marginal and always demanding. The battle continues in days of May when floods should be a thing of the winter that has passed.