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Archive Sunday, 19 November, 2000, 11:24 GMT
Underwater Britain November 19 2000
Flood waters
Underwater Britain
Sunday November 19 2000
Reporter Vivian White
Producers Tom Giles, David Akerman and Aidan Laverty

Vivian White put your questions to Merylyn Mckenzie-Hedger of the UK Climate Impact programme and Geoff Jenkins of the Hadley Centre in a live webcast. Click on the link below to listen to coverage of the forum.


The country may be getting back to normal after the floods, but the evidence is that there could be plenty more in store. Panorama investigates whether the last three weeks could just be a taster as the UK's climate changes.

Helen Young, Met Office forecaster at the BBC Weather Centre, says: "I think in 30 years' time, if I'm still here presenting the weather, I will be looking at something quite different to what we're dealing with now."

Scroll down for related links

It is predicted temperatures will continue to rise between one and possibly three degrees over the next 50 years. As temperatures rise, we will get drier summers, even droughts, but wetter winters.

John Prescott tells Vivian White that the country needs to face up to climate change. He says "Government should make sure we're doing everything to prevent (flood damage), my wake-up call is to say to people, these are going to be more frequent, we should do more about it."

Read more on Climate Change in News Online's Special Report

It is the sort of event we would expect to occur more in the future as a result of global warming

Martin Parry
The evidence suggests global warming is already here.

Martin Parry, Professor at the Jackson Environment Institute in East Anglia, says: "It may be the result of simply extreme weather but it is the sort of event that we would expect to occur more in the future as a result of global warming."

'We thought we were protected'

The residents of the village of Mersham in Kent thought they were protected from the risk of flooding.

A flood defence system at Aldington, just upstream on the River Stour, was completed 10 years ago to protect the communities below from repeated floods.

Aldington Dam
Aldington Dam could not cope with the floods
Local resident Vivien Blakely says: "We thought we were going to be protected by the Aldington flood scheme which has seriously failed last night, and as you can see all around us, this water came up very suddenly and quite alarmingly."

Existing flood defences around the country may be inadequate, which could be a potentially expensive issue for the government. Climate change is shifting the statistics that design guidelines are based on.

Visit ISL for more information on flood analysis in the UK

Merylyn Mackenzie-Hedger
Merylyn Mckenzie-Hedger
Merylyn Mckenzie-Hedger of the UK Climate Impact programme tells Panorama: "there are going to be very big decisions made about the scale of resources that are needed for investment to protect on climate change...Big decisions, big money."

Mark Dixon from the Environment Agency is responsible for planning East Anglia's future flood defences from the Thames to the Wash. He has already adapted his own Essex home, ready for the worst.

Instead of building up the sea wall and defending the land behind against rising sea levels, official Government policy now is to allow agricultural land to be flooded and to return to salt marsh.

'Hard realities'

It is called "managed retreat" and it means effectively re-drawing the map.

For farmers like Guy Smith this seems like a policy for defeat, which he fears, might make ultimately it impossible for him to continue working his family farm.

Mark Dixon
Mark Dixon is ready for future floods
But Mr Dixon says: "These are hard realities. You can no sooner cancel sea level rise than you can say I don't want winter anymore. It's going to happen it's a fact of life."

Instead of following policies to adapt to climate change we are still doing things which can actually make the damage that extreme weather and climate change can cause even worse.

At Tonbridge in Kent, new houses are now being built on a flood plain. The Environment Agency objected to the development but the local authority went ahead.

Kate Trenham, Development Control Officer for the Environment Agency, says: "We did advise the local planning authority against it.

"We don't know what other issues they had to consider - but obviously when it came down to the flood plain, we were very much against it and we were very disappointed that this development took place."

UK Houses on the flood plains
There are over 2 million houses either built on floodplains or within 100 metres of them
Nearly 400,000 of these have been built since 1980
The Environment Agency say 20% of the developments it has objected to on a flood basis are going ahead anyway with no changes, and a further 28% are going ahead with some modification.

Flood protection is not the only problem residents will face. Derek Binns owns the Lowther pub in York, which was damaged in the floods.

'My policy's dead and gone'

His insurers have told him his contents are covered this time, but will not be next time.

Mr Binns tells Panorama: "They will not honour the policy after this time, that is it. It runs until June, but they've said this is policy's cancelled and dead and gone."

The insurance industry knows all about places at risk. They have maps of flood risk areas on computer, and now they are updating them.

Andrew Dlugolecki
Andrew Dlugolecki has worrying news for homeowners
Andrew Dlugolecki of insurers CGNU says: "What we have now is very sophisticated computer models which will help us to redraw the insurance map of Britain, and that redrawing will mean that some areas will pay more than others because the risk is more in those areas than the safer areas."

The floods have been a shock to the nation. Millions of pounds of damage have been caused, but the scientists say this has just been a warning.

Ms Mckenzie-Hedger says: "What we've seen in the last fortnight should be the wakeup call.

"This is entirely consistent with what we know climate change will bring, and what it's going to mean is it's going to affect everyone's lives in all sorts of different ways, and everyone has got to start thinking about this very important issue now."

Related links

Panorama 01.12.97 Greenhouse Wars - The hidden agenda behind Kyoto Climate Conference: Programme Transcript

BBC - State of the Planet

BBC Watchdog - Housing/Insurance and Floods

The UK Climate Impacts Programme


The Met Office

Environment Agency

Panorama Forum
Vivian White put your questions to the experts
The insurance industry is reassessing premiums in flood risk areas
Vivian White discovers that existing flood defences may be inadequate for climate change
Links to more Archive stories are at the foot of the page.

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