Flooding looks set to remain a major headache for insurers with escalating numbers of claims, according to recent research from the Environment Agency.

Its report, A Better Place - State of the Environment 2005, states that climate change remains a major threat. It is predicted that winters will be 5% to 15% wetter, with heavy rainfall and higher tides.

The number of people at high risk of flooding could rise from 1.5 million today to more than 3.5 million by 2080.

Stephen Roberts, managing director for weather data provider WeatherNet, said: "We are likely to see an increase in sudden torrential downpours such as the one in Boscastle, which caused substantial damage. These are practically impossible to predict - five miles down the road it was not even raining.

"Secondly, thermal expansion of the sea is causing levels to rise, which is also going to increase floods.

"Hot, dry summers also mean more subsidence claims."