A RHODESIAN Ridgeback breeder and exhibitor is one of the many people stricken by the unprecedented flooding of the Somerset Levels. Janet Nolan, her husband and ten dogs have been marooned for six weeks in their bungalow, surrounded by water.

Residents of a Somerset village have been trapped after severe flooding [DAVID HEDGES/SWNS]

The only way out is to walk to the River Parrett and cross it by boat to where those who live in Muchelney have moved their cars. Getting supplies is difficult as a trip to the village takes most of the day, and oil supplies are running out.The dogs have nowhere to exercise properly despite the Nolans’ large plot, and a recent veterinary emergency when one of them got a three-inch nail stuck in his foot meant the Nolans had to ask a farmer to help transport the Ridgeback part of the way on a trailer. After he was treated at the vets there was a tortuous journey back to the river, with Mrs Nolan waiting on the other side to meet them in the dark on the other side. Between them they then carried the dog back to the house.

The water rose to unprecedented levels just before Christmas, although Mrs Nolan (Harambee) managed to get to her last show, Yeovil CS, on December 29. After that the water rose even higher and the current situation and residents’ discontent prompted a visit by Environment Minister Owen Paterson. “The dogs haven’t been out since then,” she said. “It’s been a nightmare and it’s still raining with apparently no end to it.

“Muchelney is completely cut off. To get supplies we have a long walk along the flooded river bank and once we get to our car have to make a huge detour to the shops. What used to be a 15-minute journey is taking the best part of two hours by car alone. “We’ve got ten big dogs living in the house with us and most of our two-acre grounds are underwater, in places ten or 11 inches deep. Everywhere you look is water.”

The Nolans’ bungalow is single-story. “We do worry about what we’d do if things deteriorated,” she said. “You can’t sleep properly, particularly if it’s raining or stormy. “It’s so difficult keeping everything dry. We’re continually trying to dry out the dogs’ bedding. We’re hoping to get a delivery of oil – we’ve had a few barrels but it’s nearly gone and the tanker can’t get through, so all we’ve got are two electric heaters.”

Flooding of the fields is expected in the area, Mrs Nolan said, but the current situation has never been experienced before. For years, people living in the area have been asking the Environment Agency to dredge the river without luck. “They haven’t dredged them for many years so the rivers are now running at about 30 per cent capacity because they’re so full of silt,” Mrs Nolan said. “It wouldn’t completely cure the problem but it would certainly improve it considerably. “We’ve lived here for 22 years and never seen anything like it before. The farmers are being wonderful, helping us by supplying trailers etc, after they have suffered terribly with all their fields underwater and losing so much stock. We worry terribly about the wildlife too, and dread to think what has happened to it. We see birds’ bodies floating everywhere.”

Now, belatedly, it looks as if plans are being put in place to prevent the flooding taking place again on such a scale. On Monday Mr Paterson visited a water pumping station in Northmoor Green near Bridgwater, and said flooded householders had a right to be angry. He was confronted by residents protesting against the Environment Agency’s failure to dredge rivers. He admitted that national guidelines on clearing waterways were ‘inappropriate’ for an area such as the Levels, as he announced that a plan to tackle flooding problems in the area would be drawn up within six weeks. Residents of the low-lying region called for the river system to be dredged long before the recent storms which brought flooding across the country. Mrs Nolan said several of her neighbours had moved out of their homes. “An inshore lifeboat is being used to get people to the hospital; one lady is being taken for dialysis that way. “Our dogs are getting stressed because of the situation and because they can’t be exercised properly. They’re losing condition, they were very fit dogs. I just hope we can get to Crufts – it would be nice to be able to get out. We are aiming to get there and hopefully the rain will have stopped by then.”

DOG WORLD’s Basset Hound correspondent Sandra Thexton who lives near Bridgwater in Somerset, is also suffering. “The extremely wet weather has turned this into a crisis of huge proportions for those of us who live and work in this once beautiful area,” she said. “Though our property is not flooded we are surrounded by flood water at the moment and have not been able to get out for a week.

Stressful life

“At last there are extra more powerful pumps installed at the pumping stations which are expelling water from the moors at ten tonnes per second. This may sound good but there are over 65 billion tonnes of water on the moors – nearly three per cent of Somerset. We have a very high spring tide due at the weekend of over seven metres, and if we have a lot of rain this will cancel out any pumping effort.”Last week the water was entering our moors at nearly 20 tonnes per second! So you see that life is very stressful at the moment. “My 12 Basset Hounds have been very good but are bored stiff with being restricted for so long. We can’t take them out for a walk as there’s only a small amount of lane that is left and the flood water is now very polluted as the flood water swamps people’s septic tanks.” Dead animals can be seen floating on the flooded moors. “Especially badgers,” Mrs Thexton said. “Hopefully, now this has been declared a ‘major incident’ we will see an improvement and get back to normal life – especially a good long walk over the moors with the Bassets!”

Still stranded by water are English Springer Spaniel exhibitors Julie and Malcolm Shovel who live in Fordgate, Somerset. They have left their property and have had to send their Tiverstone Springers to Yorkshire.

Floods have receded in other parts of the country. Sheila Cooksey lives in a bungalow on Ham Island, Berkshire, by the Thames, and was flooded for just over a week with her two Ridgebacks Harambee Ku Tigoni and Good Citizen Dog Scheme gold award winner Harambee Kasiki. “We were not nearly as bad as Janet but were underwater for a week,” she said. “We used waders and boats during that time. I’ve lived here for 40 years and never experienced anything like it. “My bungalow is an old-fashioned one on stilts with a room up the top. I suppose if things had got any worse we could have got into the loft room. “The dogs had nowhere to pee in my garden as it was under water, so they had to be taken by boat along the submerged road to higher ground. Kasi had to be carried from my door to my gate as the water was too deep for her and the boat could come no nearer. “They were both such good girls and such ambassadors for the breed.”

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