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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 October, 2004, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
Where is the next Boscastle?
By Liam Allen
BBC News Online

Carnage in Boscastle
100mm of rain fell in just one hour in Boscastle

The Environment Agency has published up-to-date online maps which it says give the most detailed picture of flood risk available.

In the wake of the Boscastle floods, BBC News Online tries to find out which part of Britain is most at risk of a similar fate.

Some of the summer's most striking scenes were of stranded cars and debris sailing through the muddy flood waters of Boscastle, Cornwall.

More than 150 people had to be airlifted to safety following August's flooding - some from stranded cars, from roofs and from trees, where they had clambered to safety.

It is important to remember that the risk of a flood occurring is there at all times - this year, next year and future years
Environment Agency

A report published by the Environment Agency on Wednesday concluded that the intensity and quantity of rain and the impact on Boscastle put the conditions among the most unusual ever recorded in England and Wales.

Users of the agency's new online maps can find out if the place where they live has a low, moderate or significant risk of flooding.

But a spokeswoman told BBC News Online the agency did not know which specific place had the highest risk of flooding.

The agency recorded only which places had a "significant risk" - or a 1 in 75 chance of flooding each year - and not which specific places had the greatest risks of all.

Find out flood risks for famous sites around England and Wales

In creating the new flood maps, likelihood of flooding in a particular area is calculated using predicted water levels and taking the location, type and condition of flood defences into account.

It does not, however, take into account any previous flooding in a particular place.

"The probability or likelihood of flooding is described as the chance that a location will flood in any one year," the spokeswoman said.

"It is important to remember that the risk of a flood occurring is there at all times - this year, next year and future years."

'Frequency key'

But Asher Minns, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, says previous instances of flooding must be considered when assessing risk.

"The areas most at risk are the areas that have already been flooded," he told BBC News Online.

"That's the important thing.

"Somewhere that floods once every 100 years is less likely to flood than somewhere that floods once every five years."

I think somewhere in Devon and Cornwall will be the next Boscastle
Gill Holland, National Flood Forum
The frequency of the flooding, not the severity, was key, he added.

Given this information, he thinks a major flood may take place "not too far away" from Boscastle.

"There have been a couple of big floods in Cornwall in recent times.

"It's also to do with the geology of Cornwall."

But Mr Minns would not be drawn on a town-specific prediction on the place most at risk from flooding.

Gill Holland, operations director for the National Flood Forum, an independent organisation giving support to those affected by or at risk of flooding, agreed the south-west of England was the general area most in danger.

"I think somewhere in Devon and Cornwall will be the next Boscastle.

"Boscastle was devastating like Lynmouth in 1952."

The floods in Boscastle came on 16 August of this year - exactly 52 years to the day after floods swept through Lynmouth, in Devon, killing 34 people.

Torrential rain

Ms Holland said the key to finding the places most at risk from flooding would be to analyse locations with similar geographical features to Boscastle and Lynmouth - both villages lie in steep-sided valleys.

And, in each case, torrential rain was followed by more than one river bursting.

Water pouring down high street with boulders strewn on either side
The Boscastle floods came exactly 52 years after floods in Lynmouth

The important thing, says Ms Holland, is not to single out a particular town as being the next Boscastle, but to ensure that people in at risk areas are educated and prepared in the event of flooding.

Indeed, the Environment Agency says many people living in flood plains are still not aware they are at risk.

Ms Holland says it is "a miracle" there was no loss of life in the Boscastle floods.

"More and more people are at risk from flooding because of the effect of global warming and here at the National Flood Forum we're trying to find some way of getting into these virgin communities.

"In Cornwall and Devon, now is the time to do something about it."

Have you been affected by issues raised in this story? Send us your comments using the form below.

Your comments

The area of Staines I live in is shown as a significant flood risk, despite the fact the area last flooded in the 1950s. After that they put in defences to deal with the problem. Since then up and down river and even the other bank of the river has flooded but we've stayed dry. This seems to have been ignored by the Environment Agency. So I'd just like to thank them for giving the insurance companies yet another excuse to put up my premiums!
Colin Anderson, Staines

How can people trust the Environmental Agency predictions floods, when they can't even control or predict their own annual costs. In my experience they are a joke!
Brendan McGregor, London

The authorities are doing absolutely nothing to prevent flooding in Cambridge. Our house has never flooded, but the water came close to the edge of the garden. All they do is advise to fit our own flood defences (which we can't afford), and if we do that, it would discourage potential buyers in the future even though the house has never flooded.
Richard Bagnall, Cambridge, UK

A great idea and it looks good. However as a web developer I wonder how they can spend 30M and still have a page that takes over 30s to return? Performance testing is tricky but they could do better than that. It wouldn't be acceptable to my company.
Craig, Edinburgh

As usual, for UK read England and Wales. The Environment Agency has omitted Scotland and NI off the flood area postcode list.
David, Glasgow, Scotland

Sorry David but I think you'll find that Scotland has its own agency called SEPA - Scottish Environment Protection Agency. At no point did the article claim that these were UK-wide maps.
Matt Taylor, Edinburgh

The Environment Agency flood maps purport to show existing flood defences. They do no such thing. They show none of the substantial flood defences constructed in the 1950s under the direction of Dutch consulting engineers that kept Long Eaton dry in 1977 and in the year 2000 floods. I accept that the Agency cannot predict precisely where floods are likely to occur in the future, but if they can only take historic flood plains as a basis and cannot even take account of flood defences that have been in existence for more than 40 years and have worked well on a number of occasions, what can they do other than donning Corporal Jones' uniform and running about shouting "Don't panic!".
Michael Bettney, Long Eaton, UK

We live right next to the Foss in York; only a matter of yards from its bank. However, during the 2000/1 flooding not one house in the street was flooded. The street itself is protected by a 6 foot wall, AND the Foss barrier in York itself. However, on these flood maps, our house is shown as virtually underwater already! Yet there is NO chance of it flooding! This is a broad brush approach to a problem that should be dealt with on a case by case basis, and an excuse for insurance companies to raise their already outrageous premiums.
Ryan, York, UK

What flooding could mean to the value of your home

Report issued on Boscastle floods
06 Oct 04  |  Cornwall
Insurer 'maps' UK in flood fight
03 Mar 04  |  Business


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