Reflections on The draining of the Somerset Levels


  • The information, practices and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).


Several messages emerge from reading this monograph in the light of the floods of 2013–14. Michael Williams showed that attempts at water control in the Levels extended over many centuries, and that construction of farms and settlements on very low-lying land carried major risks. There were precedents for the recent magnitude of flooding, caused in the past by very heavy rainfall, poor maintenance of channels, and insufficient investment in water management. Despite modern pumps, winter flooding remains uncontrollable without massive investment. Unlike his earlier emphasis on ‘improvement’, Williams argued in later writing that some stretches of peat moor in Somerset might be conserved as wetland rather than being subjected to further drainage.