GCSE Geography: Somerset Levels Flooding 2014

Causes and Impacts of Flooding

Over your GCSE Geography course, you will have to learn a range of case studies to draw upon in your answers. The Somerset Levels is a common location in which many schools choose to focus. Find all the information you need to learn here and get a perfect example answer!

The Somerset Levels

The Somerset Levels are an area of low-lying land close to the coast in southwest England. Several rivers flow through the area including the River Tone and the River Parrett. These drain into the Bristol Channel. The area is prone to flooding and the people living close by have had to deal with consequences for decades.


Floods occur when the water in a river channel becomes higher than the river banks, causing it to overflow. Most rivers will flood occasionally, but some overflow their banks very regularly. The results can be devastating to the environment and to people. Both physical factors and human activity cause flooding. In the winter of 2013-2014, the consequences of flooding in the Somerset Levels affected thousands of people and caused major damages.

Physical Causes

  • Winter Storms – In December 2013 and January 2014, extreme winter storms occurred in the southern parts of England. There was twice as much rain in January as expected – 207 mm. This value was the highest on record since 1910.
  • Landscape – The surrounding area is made up of low-lying land with grassy vegetation. This doesn’t allow for much interception. The impermeable clay soils also restrict the movement of rainwater through the ground.
  • High Tides – There were extremely high tides in the weeks leading up to the flood caused by the storm surges. This caused water in the River Parrett and other rivers to back up, and it couldn’t leave the area as quickly as it should have.

Human Causes

  • Dredging – The rivers were full of sediment as they had not been dredged for over 20 years. This caused rivers to overflow quicker than they should have as the river bed was high.
  • Housing – The nearby towns of Taunton and Bridgwater meant the area surrounding the rivers was covered in impermeable tarmac and concrete. The vast amount of rainwater drained quickly to the river, making it more likely to flood. Water pumps have also been installed in the towns to remove water to the Levels.
Floods can cause devastating damage to vehicles and property. Photo by Chris Gallagher/Unsplash.

Impacts of the Floods

The impacts of the Somerset Levels flooding can be separated into three categories – social, economic and environmental.

Power supplies were cut off in many areas.Over 11,000 ha of agricultural land was flooded, causing a major loss in profit.Flooding destroyed animal habitats and limited food supplies.
People were left stranded by the high water levels in Moorley and Muchelney.Severe disruption to public services and many residents could not attend work due to disruption to the roads.The floodwater was contaminated with sewage, chemicals and pesticides having harmful effects on small mammals and the soil.
Over 600 homes were flooded.Railway lines had to close.
Some evacuated residents could not return home for months.The cost of damage is estimated at £10 million, according to the Somerset County Council.
16 farms were evacuated.

Example Exam Questions and Answers:

Explain how people contributed to flooding in your case study of a river in the British Isles [3].
The 2014 flooding in the Somerset Levels was caused by construction in the area surrounding the rivers. Housing estates built in nearby Taunton and Bridgwater meant there was an increase in impermeable, man-made tarmac. The water could not penetrate the ground and so flowed over the surface to the river, quickly adding large volumes and raising the water level. The rivers had also not been dredged in over 20 years. Sediment buildup raised the height of the water level, increasing the chance of flooding.

* Take note! The question is specifying that it wants information about a river inside the British Isles. Do not write about any other river in this question! It is also important to identify what you are talking about. Your first sentence should set the scene and let the examiner know that you understand the question and are using information from your case study. *
For a river inside the British Isles, discuss the social, economic and environmental impacts of a flooding event [7].
The Somerset Levels in southwest England experienced devastating flooding in early 2014. The flooding was caused by extreme winter storms and the rivers quickly began to overflow their banks. In January, 207 mm of rain fell which is double what was expected. As a result of the severe floods, over 600 homes were damaged by floodwater and 16 farms had to be evacuated. Power supplies had to be cut off in certain areas and rescue teams had to use boats to help those who were stranded in the high water levels. Some evacuated residents could not return home for months and many now have to pay very high rates on home insurance because of being in a high-risk flood zone. The damage cost an estimated £10 million and disrupted many transport connections. People could not attend work and many public services were suspended affecting the local economy. The flood water was contaminated by sewage and chemicals which were harmful to the soil and small animals. Many birds and animals lost their habitats due to the flooding and food supplies became limited. Trees and vegetation that were swept away in the flood caused damage to buildings and property.

If you’d like any more examples of questions on the Somerset Levels or need help with a question of your own then use the contact box on this page and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can: Need some help with your homework?


The Somerset Levels floods in 2014 were extremely damaging to the environment and caused major disruption to many residents. It was caused by both human and physical factors and is at risk of happening again. Many residents still live in fear that it might happen again. Read this BBC article for more information: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-64320183.