But this year, with more rainfall than ever, it isn't flooded. Why not? Somebody said 'They must have dredged the rhynes.' He must have been joking. The rhynes, which are the capillaries of the drainage system on the Levels, run along the sides of fields and can be cleared by the farmer with a JCB, which happens regularly. It makes no difference to flooding in this field, which is caused by the river over-flowing.
What I've heard is that the Environment Agency and the local Drainage Boards can more or less choose where will flood. There are so many pumps on the Somerset Levels, combined with a comprehensive system of sluices and flood gates, that under 'normal' conditions they can more or less shift the water around according to plan.
The Levels are of course land that has been drained - it used to be marshland, before that sea. Somewhere has to flood, because there's too much water for the rivers to take it all to the sea fast enough; so this field outside Glastonbury is one of the handy places to dump it.
I don't know why it hasn't happened this year, but the truth is that all this part of Somerset, north of Street Hill and the Poldens, is a lot less flooded than last year, or other recent years.
In amongst all the 'more dredging' statements from David Cameron, declarations of emergency from Somerset County Council, visits from Prince Charles, calls to bring in the army, and TV pictures of more and more pumping which - so far as I can tell - just takes water off the fields into the river so that it will then overflow into someone else's fields further downstream, there's one thing that goes firmly and deliberately unnoticed: statements from the Environment Agency about what they are actually doing.
They are bleating as loudly as they can; but their carefully managed systems are being thoroughly upset - both by the extreme weather, and by knee-jerk directives from the government. One particular statement did slip through onto Radio 4:
"It's a choice between flooding the countryside, or flooding the towns." At some point, in other words, someone had to make a decision as to whether to flood the area around Burrowbridge, or to flood Taunton.
The area that is now flooded is close to sea level. It must be heart-breaking for farmers to see their farms inundated as they have been, but we do need some perspective here. The reality is that this kind of 'extreme weather event' is likely to happen more often in the future, whilst the resources needed to sustain such marginal areas in the face of such an overwhelming encroachment of the elements are bound to be limited.
The Somerset Levels used to consist of peat bogs and marshes, where people fished for barrel-loads of eels, grew withies for basket-making and reeds for thatching, and where water-birds lived by the thousand. Continual pumping to keep the water table artificially low for the sake of dairy farming has played havoc with the wetland wildlife. A Strategy Review carried out by the Environment Agency in 1998 was an attempt to arrive at a compromise between farmers and conservationists, that actually satisfied no-one. (See article written in 1998). It was presumably after this review that dredging of the rivers was curtailed.
It's quite likely, if this land is to remain in use for dairy farming under conditions of climate change, that the rivers Parret and Tone do need to be regularly dredged once again - though this brings with it its own dangers. And when I hear David Cameron assuring us that this is only sensible and the change of policy during the previous government's watch was "wrong," there's just one image that comes to my mind: