Somerset is rich in environmental assets from its coastline to the Levels, Exmoor to the Mendips. In particular, West Somerset was ranked in the top 10% most beautiful places in the UK (Natural England, 2013).
Within Somerset's borders are:-
- Exmoor National Park
- 4 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB):- Mendip Hills, Quantock Hills, Blackdown Hills and Cranborne Chase
- 127 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), from Cheddar Gorge to Cleeve Hill, Vallis Vale to Langport Cutting
- 15 National Nature Reserves (NNR)
- 21 Local Nature Reserves (LNR)
However, this doesn’t paint the whole picture; there are some areas of the County experiencing very different circumstances. Many people living in towns have fewer opportunities to enjoy the rural landscape and may be experiencing poor conditions in their immediate environment.
The English Indices of Deprivation, published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), are the official measure of relative deprivation for small areas in England. The most recent were published in 2015. Based on 37 indicators, they are organised across seven domains of deprivation which are combined, using appropriate weights, to calculate the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD), which is calculated for every Lower layer Super Output Area (LSOA), or neighbourhood, in England. Every such neighbourhood is ranked according to its level of deprivation relative to that of other areas.
One of the seven domains which comprise the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) is that of the Living Environment. The indicators used to create the Living Environment index of deprivation are:-
- The proportion of houses that do not have central heating
- The proportion of social and private homes that fail to meet the Decent Homes standard.
- Air quality: A measure of air quality based on emissions rates for four pollutants
- Road traffic accidents involving injury to pedestrians and cyclists
- While Somerset generally scores above average on the Living Environment theme, there are considerable variations across the county
- 137 of Somerset's 327 LSOAs fall within the 20% most deprived local areas for Indoor Living Environment.
- This number has increased substantially since 2010, but note this relates to scores compared with other areas, not absolute scores.
- West Somerset is amongst the 10% most deprived Local Authorities for Indoor Living Environment, because it has a relatively high proportion of older, poor quality housing without access to mains gas for central heating.
Weather and Climate
The Met Office publishes monthly statistics collated at RNAS Yeovilton weather station. Data for temperature and rainfall go back to 1965, and sunshine figures start in 1983. Highlights for the 1965-2015 period are as follows:-
- Average temperatures are on an upward trend (see Chart 1 below)
- Five of the eight warmest years have been in the past ten years, led by 2014
- The average annual rainfall is 730mm.
- The wettest year in this 50-year period was 2012, with 987mm (see Chart 2 below)
- The wettest month was November 2002 (192mm), but January 2014 was the fourth highest (166mm)
Chart 1 Trends in Annual Average Temperatures, Yeovilton
Source: Met Office
Chart 2 Trends in Annual Rainfall, Yeovilton
Source: Met Office
Around 15% of Somerset is either at or just above sea-level. Parts of the low-lying Somerset Levels and Moors are at risk of severe flooding as a result of extreme weather periods.
In particular, in early 2014, the area experienced widespread flooding within the Parrett and Tone river catchments. With an estimated 65 million cubic metres of floodwater covering an area of 65 square kilometres, it is the largest flood event ever known.
As a result, the Somerset Levels and Moors Flood Action Plan (FAP) was produced by a range of organisations, with the involvement of the community and co-ordinated by Somerset County Council. As part of the 20-year plan, the Somerset Rivers Authority was established in 2015.
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy publishes annual estimates of carbon dioxide emissions for local authorities and regions. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is the main greenhouse gas, accounting for about 82 per cent of the UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2014.
- Between 2005 and 2014, estimated CO2 levels in Somerset fell by 17%
- This was a smaller decrease than that experienced across England (24%) and South West England (23%).
- The latest annual fall in Somerset is largely attributable to declines in domestic (household fuel) emissions.
- Emissions per head of population is above average in Somerset, but this is fairly typical of more rural counties (see chart 3 below)
- In 2014 industrial emissions comprised 43% of the total, 30% were attributed to transport and 27% to domestic energy use.
Chart 3 Trends in CO2 Emissions per head
Source: Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
Bathing Water Quality
Water quality at designated bathing water sites in England is assessed by the Environment Agency. From May to September, weekly assessments measure current water quality, and at a number of sites daily pollution risk forecasts are issued. Annual ratings classify each site as excellent, good, sufficient or poor based on measurements taken over a period of up to four years.
See the map below for the seven locations in Somerset, and their 2016 classifications for bathing water quality.
For more data on these sites and others around the English coast, see the Environment Agency website.
- 48% of Somerset's resident population live in a rural setting (2011 Census)
- This is the tenth highest of any upper-tier or Unitary authority in England
For more information, see our Rurality page
Fly-tipping is the illegal deposit of waste on land, contrary to Section 33(1)(a) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Local authorities and the Environment Agency both have a responsibility in respect of illegally deposited waste.
- In 2014/15, in Somerset there were 5,241 flytipping incidents reported, slightly up year-on-year, reflecting the national trend (see chart 4 below)
- Incident clearing costs totalled more than £300,000, with further costs related to investigative actions.
- Mendip's reported incidents per head of population (18.8 per thousand) was almost twice the county average (9.6 per thousand) and above the national average of 16.4 per thousand.
Chart 4 Trends in Reported Flytipping Incidents in Somerset
Source: DEFRA, Flycapture
- Somerset collects 260,000 tonnes of household waste a year (2014/15)
- 134,000 of this waste is sent for reuse, recycling or composting
- At 52% of the total, Somerset County Council has the eighth highest rate of the 32 Disposal local authorities in England.