A COTSWOLD village narrowly escaped the torrential floodwaters, after routine maintenance on its main flood defence was delayed due to a colony of water voles.

Residents of Somerford Keynes, which is located on a flood plain, expressed concerns the village would become inundated if the flood defences were not properly maintained.

The Thames spillway, near the Spine Road Bridge, had become partially blocked by debris and vegetation, but routine maintenance could not be carried out by the Environment Agency due to the water voles, which are a legally protected species.

Chairman of Somerford Keynes parish council Sarah Powell said it was too close for comfort. “The village survived the torrential rain largely unscathed, but it was no thanks to the Environment Agency,” she said.

She added a private resident had taken matters into his own hands and carried out the necessary maintenance works. “We had to wait for gardens to start flooding before anything was done to improve the situation,” she said.

Parish councillor Roger Sleeman said the villagers had been worried about the risk of flooding. “We wanted to make sure our flood defences were in good working order before it was too late,” he said. “The spillway was installed to stop the village from getting flooded, not for ecology.”

Fellow councillor Karen Mogridge said she believed the Environment Agency’s priorities were wrong. “I do not want to say that people are more important than water voles, but the spillway was put in to protect us from flooding,” she said.

Michelle Southby of the Environment Agency said the welfare of the water voles was the main priority. “We are adapting the timing of the works to avoid the risk of disturbance to a protected species,” she said. “This is our normal approach when we encounter protected species when undertaking river maintenance work.”

She added the work would be completed at a later date. She said: “We have undertaken management on the main channel of the Thames to improve conveyance and are intending to undertake further maintenance on the overspill itself at a less vulnerable time when we can be sure we are not disturbing the water voles when they are breeding.”