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The Environment Agency and the coronavirus crisis

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Thames Barrier, London
Thames Barrier, London

We will get through the coronavirus crisis but until then every single action (however small) carries a greater significance. This is made clear by the Government’s simple instruction: Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives.

The Environment Agency is always focussed on protecting lives, livelihoods and the environment. Our commitment to this does not change while dealing with the effects of coronavirus, but we have to take into account the national situation. During this crisis, our first priority is maintaining critical services. These include:

  • Our role as a Category 1 Incident Responder under the Civil Contingencies Act. This means we operate 24/7 to respond to flooding and other environmental incidents. Right now this also includes work with our local partners to manage the impacts of Coronavirus, for example safe disposal of clinical waste;
  • Warning and informing the public about flood risk; operating and maintaining our existing flood defences; and constructing new ones;
  • Regulating the most hazardous industrial sites, like oil refineries and nuclear power stations.

We have taken action to ensure that we can sustain these vital services. While of course we always need to prioritise our work, we remain fully operational.

Most staff are now working from home, but we continue to staff facilities like the Thames Barrier and send our teams out to sites when it is essential to do their jobs.

For example, work continues on the Boston Barrier tidal flood defence in Lincolnshire, a key project that will help reduce the risk of flooding to more than 17,000 properties. The £120m barrier has undergone a series of tests in recent months to ensure it works as it should, and has passed with flying colours. Now that construction is complete, teams are working to remove the cofferdam, which provided the dry, safe construction space within the river. It should be done within the month, and the barrier should be operational by the end of the summer.

On pollution incidents: last week, our officers visited the site of a fire at a recycling plant in East Cleveland to assess environmental impact on a nearby watercourse.

And, across the country, our teams are undertaking investigations into waste crime and are preparing legal cases.

We also continue our work regulating businesses, farmers, power stations, water and waste companies and hospitals to ensure that they can operate safely without posing a threat to people or the environment.

We are working alongside the emergency services, local councils and other partners in Local Resilience Forums to help coordinate support to the vulnerable. We are sharing our incident management expertise with others involved in the national response to coronavirus and have loaned one of our top experts in flood and incident management to the Government Office for Science.

One thing we know from experience of flood incidents is that during the recovery process we need partnership, compassion, determination and patience, as well as expertise.

Stay safe.


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  1. Comment by Mike Hopkins posted on

    Hello Emma,

    Thanks for the update. There is also a lot of work that the Environment Agency contract out such as flood risk mapping and modelling which requires data capture on rivers. As a company we have worked out risk assessments and method statements to maintain social distancing to keep this work going. Individual project managers and other H&S people internal to the EA are reluctant to allow these projects to continue, even though the work is done within current government guidelines. It is vital that businesses like ours continue to operate otherwise the EA will lose a highly skilled supply chain which supports its activity.

    Please can you notify your staff that contractors can work on rivers if they have included social distancing within their RAMS. The NHS are doing their bit for our country, now it is time for businesses to do theirs and save the economy. We need the support of clients like the EA and landowners to start work again so we can make a positive impact on the UK recovery process.

    Thanks for your consideration

    Mike Hopkins MCInstCES Managing Director of Storm Geomatics Limited.

  2. Comment by Jo Allen posted on

    Great to hear this Emma. I concur with Mike H. There are so many opportunities for environmentalists to change societal behaviour - from farm to psyche - time when reality can kick in and be noticed.

    Thumbs up for EA’s work during this. Lobby, lobby, lobby. You’re good at it!


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