From The Side-lines ~ Digging Not Flooding


Our cottage is rather short, the upstairs rooms being contained mostly by open roof space rather than walls. Also, the house itself is set in the side of a steep bank between Townsend Meadow and the main road, which means the best views  (our only good ones) are from the bedroom roof-lights. These windows all face west and overlook the field towards Wenlock Edge and the big sky above.

Much time can pass at these windows, studying cloud movements or the wheeling of rooks and jackdaws.  Sometimes the odd soul (with or without companionable dog) walks by on the field path just beyond our garden gate, and sometimes on Monday mornings, the town’s entire ‘walk for health’ mob, several dozen strong with high-vis vested leaders and bringers-up of rear, trails by. Now and then, too, the farmer can also be spotted, driving his latest substance-spraying rig back and forth across the crop (this week it was a top-dressing of fertiliser for the wheat which – after the rain – is already shooting up like multiples of Jack’s beanstalk). So given this general lack of activity out back, the appearance of a big digger and very large dump truck on the near horizon was an exciting event.

The work in progress (over the brow of the hill and out of sight in the field’s top corner) is the excavation of an attenuation pond. (There is another larger one to the south of the town). They are basically reservoir basins, but without water – designed to stem the impact of any flash flood off  Wenlock Edge. The town sits in a bowl between the Edge and several hills, and has been designated a rapid response flood zone. This sounds alarming, and indeed could well be, but the conditions for flash flooding are very particular: i.e. if a severe storm hits our catchment after prolonged periods of rain when the ground is sodden, or in winter after hard frost. Water that cannot drain into the land flows into adjacent roads which then act like rivers, speedily conducting the run-off into the town centre. This can all happen in the space of 20 minutes.

As far as we know, and despite its shortness and low-lying position, our house has no history of being flooded. In the last big flood of 2007 the water seemed to flow around us. I watched the rain pour off the garden terraces behind the house, flow by the kitchen door in a fast running stream before emptying on to the main road where it doubtless contributed to the flooding of properties downstream of us.

It was unnerving to see, and later we heard that at least 50 houses in the centre of town had their cellars and ground floors deluged. That evening, coming home from work across the Edge, Graham had to abandon the car on the far side of town and take an upland ‘cross-country’ route home.

How well the ponds will serve us is yet to be demonstrated. After 12 years without a flood, it is easy to imagine that it won’t happen again, though last month The Man from the Environment Agency did come specially to town to tell us we must remain vigilant. As many round the world know to their cost, climate change is responsible for an increase in extreme weather events and, in the most extreme scenario, our ponds will only slow the flow, not stop it. There are probably further measures that could be taken: urging (enforcing would be better) landowners to plant more trees, create more flood plains  round water courses, stop selling their land for large housing developments whose roofs and access roads accelerate run-off.

For now, though, all thanks are due to the workforce who toiled, excavating and landscaping the ponds, which may one day save our most vulnerable residents the distress of having to spend a year and more drying out a flooded home. In the meantime, I keep watching the sky over Wenlock Edge. At times when the rain closes in, day after day without let up, it’s easy to wonder: is this flooding rain?


copyright 2019 Tish Farrell


Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: from the side

39 thoughts on “From The Side-lines ~ Digging Not Flooding

    1. Thank you for those kind thoughts, Sue. There’s a bit of bund behind our field boundary, and the land anyway seems to slope away from our gate to the road. So finger’s crossed. On the other hand, it would probably be sensible to consider some back-door blocking-up measures. Which reminds me, I had a friend who lived in a Welsh hillside cottage that flooded seasonally as a matter of course, and so the cottage had a specially stone built stream bed through the house to help it on its way.

  1. This reminded me of a scene in ‘Cider with Rosie’ when the family all have to take up shovels and brooms to redirect flood water away from the back door. I guess this is something we all need to be more aware of, and to keep on the political agenda.

    1. You’re right. We probably all need to think about flooding. There’s been so much development in the wrong places, repercussions as yet unknown. And as for the broom method, we have friends who live in the centre of town, and that was precisely what they had to do when the sewage manhole cover outside their house popped! Nightmare episode.

  2. I’m glad you’ve escaped flooding so far, Tish, and hopefully you always will. Makes sense, though, to have something in place just in case, especially as everyone isn’t as fortunate. We’re not expecting flooding, but there’s a winter storm warning for today and tonight which says we could have 2 to 8 inches of heavy, wet snow! Let’s hope they’re wrong about that! It would be hellish on the plants.


    1. Hope that storm passes you and your plants by, Janet. Today, we’re on the tail end of storm Hannah with a big cold wind. Yet this time last week we had glorious summer weather.

  3. Sounds awfully scary and flooding is best avoided so taking some precautions is a good thing. Hope Hannah is not causing you too much grief.

    I love the way you have edited these images.

    1. So happy you like the edits. As for Hannah, she’s being far too cold and blustery, and making me a bit cross because I can’t make up my mind whether or not to pile on layers and go to the allotment. I want to try spreading gypsum on my claggy Silurian soil to see if it improves things. And there’s onion sets to plant out…

  4. Well at least they are trying to do something even if they aren’t sure of the outcome. Here in the States several states have to deal with flooding and the clean up must be terrible to deal with. Our little community is right now dealing with tornado damage,Big trees just blown over and up rooted. That is a different kind of a mess to clean up.

    1. Whatever the devastation, it’s traumatic for the sufferers, isn’t it. Here, the ponds were the Local Authority’s response to a group of local activists who researched the geography and hydrology of our catchment. The ponds cost a fortune, and some would say they are not the appropriate solution to our situation. Interestingly the same Local Authority is rather keen on housing development, and currently considering a new 80 house estate upstream of the town centre, this next to an earlier large development whose badly sited drainage system contributed to the 2007 home flooding. It could drive you mad, the chopped logic.

  5. It is so true, Tish, that with climate change we are seeing more frequent and more severe bad weather.
    Back home there are some areas experiencing extreme flooding right now and there is a high risk of a dam breaking which has necessitated the evacuation of several communities downstream. This is scary stuff.
    I hope this preventive stuff they are doing in your area does the trick and you avoid any flooding.

  6. I’m glad you have escaped flooding in the past, and hope you remain safe in future. Water is so terribly destructive and so fast. One little town here was in undated last year when a stop bank burst. It’s a miracle all the residents escaped in time, but now the town is largely deserted and upstream farming and commercial logging continue. I do wonder just what sort of devastation will be needed before our leaders see some sense — and whether it will happen in time. ☹️ Meanwhile, let’s hope your ponds do their job.

    1. Thanks, Su. But you’re right much of the bad effects of flooding are down to poor land management. In the UK in Victorian times fields had drainage systems. In my life time roads and rural lanes had managed ditches so the water didn’t pour off the land and into the roads. The fields were smaller too with hedges and more woodland to soak up run-off. Quick return exploitation with no thought for repercussions.

    1. Good on you, Sherry, for joining the campaigns. One big problem in the UK is lots of homes have been built on river flood plains. There are now all sorts of problems over house insurance, which the government was supposed resolve some years ago. Then Brexit happened and commonsense and the public good flew out the window.

      1. I’ve been paying attention to Brexit. It’s nuts. Flood insurance is a mess here too. I had recurring a dream I was getting into a rowboat. We live in an apartment on the third floor. The other odd thing is it was being rowed by nuns.

  7. The appearance of that digger was in stark contrast to your every day. Although it has been awhile since you’ve had a gusher, I think that with weather patterns becoming more extreme round the world, you can expect another one in short order. Good that the town is preparing with attenuation ponds but I agree that further measures should be taken. I especially like the idea of more tree plantings, not only to create more flood plains but also for beautification. Trees are so much better than housing developments!

    1. I so agree about the trees. So many hedges, which were also useful soaker-uppers, have been grubbed out across the UK to make way for large monoculture field systems, which in turn are serviced by mega machines that compact the soil.

  8. Very eerie photos. 🙂 … I think that most people don’t get that there is no ‘cure’ for climate change, there’s living with the mess we’ve created, repairing what damage we can, and doing our damnedest to stop making an even bigger mess. Because of the early almost generational time-lag between cause and effect, what we’re experiencing now is as a result of actions that occurred decades ago. Now that we’ve reached the point where the effects are in people’s faces on an almost daily basis, there is much running around in circles and squeaking about what are ‘they’ going to do to fix things.

    1. I concur with all points of your terse summary of our idiot action, Widdershins. Ironically, my corner of rural Shropshire is historically one of the biggest culprits – it was here the industrial revolution ironmasters developed coke smelting and passed it on to the rest of the world.

  9. This sounds like a very good idea. I do hope the ponds work. How interesting that your house was spared whilst others were flooded. It must have been a very scary time for all of you, not knowing how long it was going to carry on raining for. Your photos are amazing, although the second one is quite chilling if one didn’t know what it was all about.

    1. Hello Sylvia. We are indeed lucky with the lay of the land. It’s not the sort of thing you think about though when you buy a house, and especially when there is no sign of a water course in the immediate neighbourhood. I’ve learned an awful lot about drains and drainage since we came to Wenlock!

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