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24 September 2014
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Nature

An image of the great flood of 1607
An image of the great flood of 1607

The great flood of 1607: could it happen again?

On 30 January 1607 severe floods hit Somerset. What caused one of the most devastating natural events ever to hit the county? Could it happen again? Find out here.

Described as the worst natural disaster to hit Britain, the flood of 1607 killed 2,000 people.

It is estimated 200 square miles (520 sq km) of land were covered by water. Eyewitness accounts of the disaster told of "huge and mighty hills of water" advancing at a speed "faster than a greyhound can run".

BBC Somerset Sound marked the 400th anniversary of the event in a special programme on Tuesday, 30 January, 2007. Clinton Rogers also filed a special report for BBC Points West, which you can watch by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page.

To listen to the story of the flood, told from reports at the time, click on this audio link:

audio The story of the 1607 flood >
Audio and Video links on this page require Realplayer

But what caused such an event? Was it a huge storm?

A tsunami is the theory put forward by Professor Simon Haslett from Bath Spa University and Dr Ted Bryant of the University of Wollongong, who took BBC Somerset Sound reporter Andrew Enever to see some of the evidence:

audio Simon Haslett on the cause of the flood >
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One of the key issues today is how vulnerable Somerset's lowland coastal areas are.

Simon Haslett
Professor Simon Haslett

Simon Haslett took reporter Andrew Enever to a place where the weakness can be seen all too clearly.

Hear him talking about how vulnerable Somerset is to another great flood:

audio Simon Haslett on Somerset's lowland areas >
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So can these lowland areas be protected?

BBC Somerset Sound's Jess Rudkin asked Richard Symonds from the Environment Agency who manages flood defences in Somerset:

audio Richard Symonds on flood defences >
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Most scientists agree that rising sea levels mean a major coastal flood in the future is becoming more likely.

Brean Down
This view from Brean Down shows exposed lowland

It's not easy to imagine what kind of impact it could have in the county, but let's consider one future scenario.

The date is 30 January 2047 and Somerset's sea defences have been breached.

In a fictitious account of what the future might hold, a Somerset woman writes a letter to her great grandchild:

audio Somerset in 2047 >
video Watch Clinton Rogers' report for BBC Points West >
Audio and Video links on this page require Realplayer
last updated: 11/06/08
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