Snowed in: how volunteers are keeping rural Britain connected

It’s been about seven years since we’ve had significant snow in the West Midlands, but for some parts of the country today is a winter wonderland.  Area Environment Manager for the West Midlands Environment Agency David Throup explains how he and his team are keeping rural communities connected to essential services. 

11th December 2017
Environment agency

In some places we’ve had from six inches to nearly a foot of the white stuff. But, pretty as it may be, it can pose problems for some people, such as vulnerable communities in rural areas who have been cut off from vital medical services and supplies. 

During adverse weather conditions, the Environment Agency works closely with local authorities and health and emergency services to make sure these vulnerable people are kept safe and well. Through this arrangement, we’ve been volunteering our staff and 4x4 vehicles to help people who might otherwise be stranded get the medical help they need, despite the snow.

Directed by the NHS, our volunteers have been helping ferry people to medical centres so they don’t have to miss appointments, and have been helping doctors and health visitors get to patients in rural locations.

Our 4x4s are usually used for site visits, sampling, or the work of our fisheries teams, however this work is currently on hold while the snow poses a risk, meaning we can make the best use of our vehicles in these conditions by helping the community, whether by ferrying patients or delivering food or road salt to rural locations.

Of course, we are in no way compromising our ability to respond to other incidents that could arise, like pollution, waste fires or flooding. But we’re keen to help out as much as we can – not only because it’s what’s rightly expected of us professionally, but because our staff live in, and care about, these communities.

While we don’t have a central role in responding to heavy snowfall and cold weather, working together with the local emergency services means all the organisations involved can pool our resources, be more flexible, and ultimately better protect local people.

EA fisheries officer and volunteer Sam Chapman
EA fisheries officer and volunteer Sam Chapman preparing for visits/Credit: Sam Chapman

In this instance, we’re pleased and proud to be able to support by offering our staff and vehicles. But we also know it’s a reciprocal arrangement – for example, the fire service offer their staff and equipment when we are responding to a flood. They will help us put up temporary flood defences or offer their pumps to get water out of people’s homes.

And speaking of flooding – you might be wondering, will the melting snow cause any issues?

Currently we expect the snow to thaw steadily, which means it’s less likely to lead to flooding. But we’re still keeping a close eye on the weather and river levels, and we’re ready to respond if conditions change. In the meanwhile, we’d remind everyone to stay safe, keep warm, and follow the news and weather forecasts for updates.

 

David Throup is Area Environment Manager for the West Midlands. You can follow him on Twitter - @DaveThroupEA. You can also check your flood risk and sign up for free flood warnings by calling 0345 988 1188 or visiting www.gov.uk/flood.

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