Michael Eavis launches Somerset Levels dredging fund
A £4m campaign is being launched by Glastonbury Festival founder Michael Eavis to prevent future flooding on the Somerset Levels.
The Levels flooded badly last year leaving farmers unable to plant crops or graze livestock for several months.
Many farmers blame silted-up rivers which stopped water flowing off the land and formed swamp-like conditions.
The Environment Agency has said dredging rivers was not a long-term solution to deal with flooding.'Shambles'
Mr Eavis, who has a dairy farm at Pilton, near Glastonbury, said: "They used to have half a dozen drag lines that would be going throughout the winter.
I've lost count how many times over the last 25 years I've reported on flooding on the Somerset Levels.
Farmers and landowners always say the state of the rivers is to blame. They claim the rivers are so silted up in places they are only carrying 60% of the water they used to.
Yet consistently the Environment Agency - whose job it is to maintain the rivers - have said they cannot be sure dredging is the answer. A standpoint which has always infuriated those who live on the Levels.
It was interesting to see the Agency has now agreed dredging will work. Now the stumbling block is who will pay for it?
Even allowing for contributions from the county council and other agencies, there is a funding shortfall of at least £2m.
Today's launch is really tantamount to asking farmers and landowners most affected to cough up.
Whether they will or not is a moot point. One thing is certain: unless the funding shortfall is bridged a solution will still be sought 25 years from now.
"It should be so simple to introduce a system that works but it's all been an absolute shambles.
"Unfortunately the maintenance of the Levels has been an example of central government interference, when it should have been left to the people who know what they are doing.
"One of the benefits of dredging is that you build up the banks at the same time so it's a double whammy effect."
The fund is being organised by the Royal Bath and West of England Society.
Edwin White, from the society said: "This situation has been allowed to develop over the last 10 or 15 years and now it's reached a head with heavy rains of 2011 and 2012.
"A wet winter this year will add to the destruction."
About 1,000 farmers manage the Somerset Levels, which covers 170,000 acres of land.
Although the Environment Agency has said dredging is not a long-term solution, it has pledged £300,000 towards the fund.
The Wessex Regional Flood and Coastal Committee and Somerset County Council have also pledged the same amount.
If £4m is raised, the hope is that dredging can start by next spring or summer.