The Environment Agency has imposed 228 flood alerts, 50 flood warnings and seven severe flood warnings, with heavy rain set to batter the UK over the coming days.

The agency warned people to be prepared for flooding along the south and west coasts of England. It said that with the ground saturated and river levels high, there is a continued risk of river and surface water flooding.

The seven severe flood warnings were in the south west, with areas including Bideford, North Devon and those along the Taw Torridge Estuary placed on the agency's highest alert.

People in at-risk areas were told to "remain vigilant" as strong winds combined with high tides and large waves could lead to localised spray wave over-topping.

Tweeting advice, a spokesperson said: "Stay away from the shoreline this evening/tomorrow. Coastal paths could be dangerous. Risk of being swept out to sea."

Craig Woolhouse, the Environment Agency's Head of Flood Incident Management, said: "Strong winds and large waves along the west and south coasts of England are forecast between Friday and Sunday, coinciding with high tides.

"Impacts could include flooding affecting some coastal properties and communities. Coastal paths and promenades could be highly dangerous as there is an increased risk of being swept out to sea. People are warned to stay away from the shoreline.

"The Environment Agency is monitoring the situation closely, working alongside partners including the Met Office and local authorities. Environment Agency teams are out on the ground making sure that flood defences are in good working order, monitoring sea levels and preparing to issue flood alerts and warnings."

The Met Office has also issued a severe weather warning of wind for the west coast of the UK, with Ireland expecting to see winds of up to 80mph and 20mm of rain, leading to ground saturation and potential flooding.

Environment secretary Owen Paterson (Reuters)
Environment secretary Owen Paterson said UK agencies are prepared for severe weather.

"A developing Atlantic low pressure system is expected to move north-eastwards just to the west of Scotland on Friday," the Met Office said in a statement. "This will push further bands of locally heavy rain across the area with more than 20 mm quite widely. Given existing levels of saturation, this is likely to lead to some flooding."

The severe weather has already resulted in one death when a man was washed out to sea in Cornwall on New Year's Eve. The search for the 27-year-old man was called off after a body was found on the beach at Porthleven.

In Kent, extra sandbags have been issued to locals in preparation for floods, while a number of train services are expected to be disrupted across the country.

The government's emergence committee Cobra has met to discuss the response to the severe weather over Christmas and the New Year.

Environment secretary Owen Paterson, who chaired the meeting, said agencies were "absolutely prepared" for bad weather.

"We will remain in touch with councils in at-risk areas," the Evening Standard quotes him as saying.

"With a number of flood alerts for the South-East for tomorrow, including several areas which have previously been flooded, I urge everyone in affected areas to sign up to EA flood warnings and follow the advice issued."

According to The Weather Outlook, the heavy rain will continue until Sunday, when the worst of the weather will move eastwards. It said that while next week should be drier, it will only be a brief respite, with a westerly front strengthening again after a short break.