Impacts of the summer 2007 floods in rural England : rural proofing - Cinderella or suitable case for treatment?
Exceptional rainfall during the summer months in 2007 caused widespread flooding in parts of England and Wales, resulting in the displacement of many people and extensive damage to houses, businesses and infrastructure. While the focus of attention has been correctly placed on the impact on life and property in densely populated urban areas, large tracts of rural land were seriously affected by flooding. Summer flooding is particularly damaging to farmland and farm businesses. Furthermore, the summer is the busiest period for visitors to the countryside, making rural areas, and the people and businesses that occupy them, particularly vulnerable to summer floods.
This paper presents preliminary results from an ongoing evaluation of the consequences of the summer 2007 flood events for rural households, farming and non-farming businesses, and communities. It explores whether there is a particular ‘rural dimension’ to flooding of the kind experienced in summer 2007 that distinguishes it from the urban case. For this purpose, surveys of farmers, businesses, households and community organisations were carried out in affected rural areas in Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Yorkshire, England.
The rural flooding dimension of the summer floods varies from the urban case in a number of ways. It is clear that impacts were amplified by the sensitivity of agriculture and rural businesses to the seasonality of flooding. Waterlogging and impeded land drainage also affected businesses long after the floods had gone. Dispersed patterns of settlements appeared to make preparation for, protection against and response to flooding more difficult and costly. While most rural dwellers seem to accept that flooding of the countryside is preferable to flooding of urban areas, they are quick to raise issues of fairness and justice, especially if the rural space receives flood water for the benefit of others. Climate change and economic development will make rural areas more vulnerable to flooding in future unless they are explicitly considered in future strategies to manage flood risk. The rural space may require special treatment if it is not to become a neglected and unrepresented flood risk ‘Cinderella’, providing services to its urban siblings without recognition or reward.