Somerset County Council joins rural alliance to demand support for tackling climate change

Somerset County Council Leader David Fothergill has joined a group of rural council leaders to promote the voice of the countryside in the climate change debate.

A letter published today (24 June) in the Daily Telegraph by the new Countryside Climate Network, a cross-party group of 21 councils from every region in England, warns that “rural communities are at the frontline of feeling the effects of climate change” and that “the countryside offers far more than a place to plant millions of trees to offset carbon emissions”.

The new network has been established by UK100, a network of local leaders that campaigns on climate change. The 21 councils represent 14.3 million people in total, a quarter of the population (25%) and two fifths (41%) of England by area. The letter adds: “Rural communities have always been a great source of national progress and innovation. However, rural communities face unfair barriers in trying to decarbonise – it is harder to attract funding for projects which don’t fit traditional cost benefit analyses, which favour urban concentrations yet may have less overall carbon reduction impact.”

Councillor Fothergill said: ““We are already taking action on Climate Change in Somerset and co-ordinating our plans to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2030. We are also seeking to build a climate resilient county ready to adapt to likely future climate and extreme weather events.”

“By forming an alliance with other rural councils across the country we can highlight the challenges we all face, and it gives us an opportunity to work together and learn from each other.”

Somerset has already implemented a great deal of actions to tackle climate change, some examples include:

  • More than half of streetlights in Somerset have now been upgraded with low-energy Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology. That means a 30 per cent reduction in energy consumption – more than 600,000 kilowatt hours – for the County Council streetlights, and a saving 3,276 tonnes of carbon footprint and of £770,000 on energy bills in three years
  • Reducing flood risk and helping Somerset adapt to flood risk through ‘Co-Adapt’. Projects include: adjusting water management structures within the Somerset Levels to more nature-based management systems; working with communities in Porlock Vale to reduce flood risk; and installing natural flood management systems in three zones within the Culm Catchment area in the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
  • Encouraging people to make greener, healthy travel choices by developing Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs), for Taunton, Bridgwater and Yeovil. The plans will identify investment to create effective cycling networks for these towns.

Polly Billington, Director of UK100, said: “Climate change affects every area and every person, and rural towns and villages can be more vulnerable to the impacts, such as extreme weather. Countryside councils are well placed to tackle climate change and meet the needs and ambitions of their communities for economic recovery and better health and wellbeing, with innovative solutions along with the democratic legitimacy to deliver lasting change.”

The group points out that rural areas can be more vulnerable to extreme weather events such as the devastating floods experienced in Somerset in 2014. The number of extreme weather events has doubled since 1980.