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Weather issues show why the environment can’t be ignored by government

PUBLISHED: 05:30 26 December 2019

We've had flooding in Suffolk, but still need more rain! Picture: GLORIA BROWN

We've had flooding in Suffolk, but still need more rain! Picture: GLORIA BROWN

GLORIA BROWN

We Brits love talking about the weather, so I suspect our stories that appeared on the same day at the end of last week will have raised a few wry smiles.

Will environmental protests replace Brexit marches in Westminster? Picture: PAWill environmental protests replace Brexit marches in Westminster? Picture: PA

On the one hand we had warnings from the Flood Information Service that there were worryingly high water levels in the River Deben near Brandeston - threatening some properties.

At the same time The Environment Agency and Anglian Water were saying that they needed the wet weather we have had in the autumn to continue until March to restore the groundwater supplies which have been badly depleted by three years of below-average rainfall.

I'm not expert hydrologist, but I think I can see how those two statements can be reconciled - the problem so far as the groundwater is concerned is that the rain has to get through topsoil and other levels to get to this chalky sponge-like layer.

It can easily get diverted into rivers like the Deben and flow into the sea - meaning it really doesn't get to where it's needed so far as the water companies are concerned.

I think what they're really looking for is lots of reasonably light rain over the next few months. The kind that doesn't immediately flow away but doesn't just evaporate away in the middle of winter.

I'll try not to feel too disappointed if we do continue to get a lot of rain for the next few months, but there is a little bit of me that would like to see a bit of a let-up and I know the region's farmers would like a respite to enable them to get some seeds into the soil.

One thing that did strike me when preparing the drought story was just how little impact the question of the environment really came across during the General Election campaign.

There were attempts to ignite this as an issue - especially the Channel Four debate which saw Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage replaced with ice sculptures.

But overall the issue never seemed remotely near to making the top of a political agenda dominated by Brexit and the characters of the party leaders.

In debates everyone seemed to want to say how important the environment was, but in effect it was only the Green Party representatives who kept it at the top of the political agenda.

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And while Green Party candidates did get a few more votes across the country, they didn't come anywhere near winning a second parliamentary seat to get anyone else sitting alongside Caroline Lucas in the House of Commons.

I suspect this is the result of the overwhelming sense that the British political logjam needed to be sorted out and that every other policy was overshadowed by this.

And I do wonder if the fact that the election was held in the middle of a fairly mild (if rather damp) December meant that issues like climate change were not at the centre of everyone's thinking during the campaign.

That means, I suspect, that we are likely to see more Extinction Rebellion civil disobedience campaigns over the next few years to try to raise the profile of the issue.

I do hope that if that happens the organisers will try to be rather more sensible in the way they choose their targets than they have been in the past.

I still found it daft that they stuck themselves to electrically-powered trains disrupting the lives of ordinary people in London and other large cities rather than targeting real pollution problems.

At the end of a year that has seen tremendous political uncertainty in the UK and has ended with the first signs that some kind of clear way out of this, I suspect there will be a greater temptation for those with their own political issues to put forward to take to the streets.

How long the protestors yelling "Stop Brexit" outside the Houses of Parliament will last is an interesting point. Will they be replaced by those calling for more environmental protection?

And if they are, will anyone from the government be listening to them?

I suspect weather, climate, and concerns about the environment will increase over the next few years - but whatever they say, I don't see the current government seeing Green issues as a top priority any time soon.

The NHS, infrastructure and boosting the economy seem to be at the top of their list alongside the ubiquitous "Get Brexit Done."

But somehow I don't think some people will be prepared to turn a blind eye to the world's environmental problems and just shrug their shoulders!


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