Page last updated at 15:51 GMT, Thursday, 24 September 2009 16:51 UK

Soil conditions blamed for floods

East Devon flood rescue: Pic Sylvia Eglington
As much as 177mm of rain fell on east Devon in three hours in October 2008

Hardened soil could be partly to blame for the flooding of more than 350 properties during heavy rain in Devon last year, said the Environment Agency.

Officials found some soil on farmland was compacted, meaning rainwater ran-off into nearby streams rather than soaking into the ground.

More than 80% of the damaged properties were flooded by such streams rather than rivers, the agency explained.

It is now working with farmers to reduce the risk of future flooding.

I know just how devastating the East Devon floods were. Something has got to be done to reduce the risk
Councillor Graham Brown

As much as 177mm of rain fell in the Ottery St Mary area in the space of just three hours in October 2008, 159% of the average monthly rainfall for the area.

The Environment Agency (EA) said wet farmland soil had become compressed by the weight of heavy farm machinery or livestock, leading to flash flooding.

It found soil compaction at 40% of sites at Ottery St Mary, 53% of sites at Feniton and 59% of sites in the River Clyst Valley.

Richard Smith, the agency's land quality officer, said: "When in good condition, well drained soil can absorb huge quantities of rainwater.

Farmer in field
Work is being done with farmers to improve drainage

"But a hard compacted soil can shed up to 90% as surface water run-off. This problem is widespread in East Devon."

The agency has been working alongside the East Devon Flood Recovery Group to help farmers improve drainage on their land.

Graham Brown, a local farmer and district councillor, said: "I know the kind of challenges farmers are facing.

"There are massive economic pressures and the past three wet summers have meant there hasn't been a good time to work the land.

"But I also know just how devastating the East Devon floods were. Something has got to be done to reduce the risk."

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