The Changing Seasons: February

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There’s been little chance to take photos this month. We have had altogether too much bad weather: two storms and one on the way; rain that has been raining since the end of September; wind, sleet and hail; and for poor people who live near the River Severn, horrendous floods. Nearby Ironbridge has been deluged, the water breaching the flood barriers. Our county town, Shrewsbury, has been returned to the bad old winter flood days of the 1960s, this despite its modern flood defences. (You can go here to see the BBC coverage.)  In Much Wenlock ten homes on the High Street were treated to a slurry of liquid mud and gravel courtesy of run-off from surrounding hillsides delivered by road into their living rooms and parked cars.

There is much that could have been done since our region’s last big floods in 2007-8. No one seems to drain fields properly, or maintain lane and roadside ditches as they did in my childhood, interventions that would at least help to slow the flow. In fact our verge-side ditches seem to have mostly disappeared, presumably filled in and sacrificed to road widening. And so in times of heavy rains when highway drains may become quickly blocked, our roads serve as highly efficient flash flood delivery systems.

We need to start thinking about better water catchment management, and especially on our denuded uplands where our rivers rise.

Australian farmer initiatives show how all our water catchment areas could be managed better with the addition of ‘leaky weirs’ set at intervals down water courses: rocks, tree trunks judiciously placed to create a series of delta effects. No need for hugely expensive hi-techery. Such simple methods not only hold back flood water and sediment, but hydrate surrounding land and foster regrowth of bank-side vegetation that in turn restores biodiversity, providing resilience too in times of drought. AND, most importantly of all, reducing soil erosion.

BECAUSE apart from the absolute misery caused by flooded homes, the impact on life, health and livelihoods, the biggest long-term loss to us ALL, is the fertile soil that floods carry away. Once it is gone, it is gone. Many of our soils are already mineral depleted. This will ultimately have an impact on the quality of food produced and on human health. The way we treat the land, always clearing, forever taking out with an eye to greater efficiency and higher productivity, but without ever replenishing adn rebuilding, is a good way to degrade local and regional weather systems.  In fact creating land resilience and restoring the natural environment are probably the most useful things we could be doing now this minute to mitigate future extreme weather events.

And before too much blame is laid at farmers’ doors for industrial farming practices, the UK and Australia, it seems, have various laws that forbid landowner interference with water courses on their land. They must seek official approval to do anything that impacts on water flow. In the UK, riparian owners have some very serious responsibilities which include ensuring the clear movement of water through their properties.

Here’s an interesting video showing how leaky weirs work, and showcasing the pioneering efforts of farmers and the Mulloon Institute in New South Wales:

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And back on the home front and to fend off sensations of all round rising damp, here’s a photo of my drying washing, taken on the one day this month when it was worth hanging it out in the garden. Nothing like filling one’s sheets with wind and sunshine; always makes for the best sort of sleep, I always think.

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The Changing Seasons: February 2020

Sue has a very lovely gallery of photos this month. Please go and see.

45 thoughts on “The Changing Seasons: February

    1. There seems to have been unusual weather everywhere – some places like the Arctic super cold, Moscow warmer than usual. Hardly any frost in England, but snow in Saudi Arabia and unusually low temps in Delhi. The jet stream seems to be causing lots of volatile weather events including, it seems, a mega dust storm this last week over the Canaries.

  1. I hear you about the storms and rain, Tish, it’s the same here. And you’re so right about water catchment management – governments and people in general seem to have become out of touch with how to treat these things, thinking it’s more important to have wider streets than relying on easy methods to help when there’s flooding.

    1. You put your finger right on it, Sarah. We have lost touch with how natural systems work. We also tend to forget the power of water until it’s invading our house or street at high speed. Officialdom also gets locked in a particular mindset of how things should be done when it doesn’t always serve the general purpose.

    1. I agree, Flower. An immediate problem, too, is one due to cutbacks in our Local Authority and Environmental Agency funding which also means a loss of institutional memory, and of expertise when senior officers retire. Their local knowledge of why things were or were not done in particular ways retires with them. Much Wenlock has a history of repeated flooding durin the 1990s, but in 2007 when over 50 houses flooded the Environment Agency appeared not to have any records of earlier events, this despite the fact they are responsible for 2 watercourses that were implicated. They upped their act since.

  2. Was just chatting with Brian about how rough your weather is at the mo.

    It is bad enough out here that I ran out of suntan lotion the other day.
    Too terrible.

    Oh, and I loved the Aussie farming link you posted on FB t’other day. Good stuff.
    Must watch this one too.

    Stay warm and dry- if you can!
    🙂

  3. Interesting point about interfering with water courses Tish. Many years ago I was involved in an angling conservation body. We gained a lease on a very important stretch of upper river which had suffered over the years from constant dredging. This had reduced habitat and obviously bio-diversity. With careful planning and consent we reintroduced riffles and meanders and replanted willows that had been ripped out to ‘help the flow’. This project was a great success and was a template for others as it reduced the risk of flooding.
    Another point. When will developers learn that if you build housing estates on flood plains they will flood? Our weather is changing and we must adapt and your points are one big step forward.

    1. Thanks for that first-hand perspective, Brian. It’s good, too, to hear of a restoration success story. As to developers and flood plains, it seems it’s set to continue. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if they built something that catered for floods. Too expensive I guess.

      1. Yes cost, everything revolves around the greed for a quick buck. If people wised up and didn’t buy properties built on fields that were designed to flood then maybe developers could start using brown field sites.

      2. It’s a pity brownfield isn’t obligatory. At the moment developers busy land-banking – a million properties for which they have permission (I think I heard that on Radio 4), which is equal to the existing million odd empty properties in towns and cities that just need a refurb. Our local landowner is hoping to built 120 houses next to an existing estate that already floods (field run-off and drains back up) , this on the grounds that if they build lots more houses next door it will cover the cost of flood remediation, a situation that was created by building the first estate. You couldn’t make it up.

  4. I’d love to hang out laundry because it smells so good. There are places where hanging out laundry is against the law, something I think should be against the law. 🙂 There are so many conserving things that could be done without spending lots of money, but the less of them we do, the more money needs to be spent in finding solutions. Sad.

    janet

    1. It’s true, Janet. we humans are good at creating vicious circles. It would therefore be really good if our mass media encouraged people with notions of what can be done instead spreading doom and panic which distracts and disempowers.

  5. Thank you for the link Tish. The Mulloon project is so inspiring, and so do-able if only the will is there. I share your anger and frustration at the treatment of our land and waterways. I think Sarah is right; the natural world creates solutions to its problems and we humans have largely lost touch with nature — trying to live outside it and control it
    I feel heart-sick for everyone who has been affected by the terrible floods in the UK; especially is it’s not the first time, and it seems to much could have been done to both prevent/ameliorate the effects and actually improve the land.
    We lived in the countryside around Newport Pagnell during the floods of Easter 1998. The boy-child was only a few weeks old and we watched the fields around our home turn to lakes. Homes and businesses in Newport Pagnell and Northampton suffered terribly then, and we felt so lucky that our place was a little elevated. Truly scary and difficult to believe that it was common then and still happening.

    1. There have been a few flood remedial schemes in the last few years, but between floods the momentum to act seems to evaporate. In Wenlock we’ve had 2 attenuation ponds built either side the town – huge expense, and even as they were built we were told they would only relieve, not stop flash flooding. And so it proves. A more systematic study of the whole catchment might yield better understanding. And landowners could help by being more proactive.

      1. “Solutions” so often seem to be narrow and short-sighted. Asking the big questions may have been scary (and political suicide) once, but I think we’ve reached the point where we have no other real choice.

      2. I agree. Whatever one’s views on global warming, or whatever the problems inherent in our political systems’ short-term thinking, we need plans that are doable and community-appropriate. If we’re in for more volatile weather events, then our first objective must be environment resilience. There are many among us who know how to do this, and plenty of proved examples to inform the process. And as I said, we can start NOW. The pay-offs may turn out be far greater than we imagine. And as you may tell, I’m working up to yet another letter to my M.P. !!!

      3. I totally agree.
        Classic example: a woman here in Auckland who has planted her suburban berm to stop her property flooding in the rain. She’s created a fabulous garden that supports wildlife, provides community food and teaches school kids about gardening and nature: but the Council has told her to remove it because it “breaches regulations.” Grrr.

  6. So sad Tish. I lived 18 years in UK 1940’s to 1950’s and cannot ever remember flooding or such bad storms. Now they seem to be part of your weather pattern. Thank you for the video about the Muldoon institute. What good work they are doing. I had never heard of them, only doom and gloom in the media now a days. Hope your allotment and garden are surviving

    1. We used to get really vicious sea storms back in the 50s and 60s, and as a child I remember the bad Severn floods in Shrewsbury. This was also in the ’60s. Some problems seem to due to the authorities cutting back or failing to see the importance of traditional waterways management systems. Our local authorities employ very few expert officers these days, and work is contracted out to private companies, which can lead to a big knowledge disconnection as well as unjoinedup thinking, or only dealing with part of the problem. But thankfully the allotment is fine if soggy, likewise the garden. Daffs coming out despite wind and rain.

      1. See s I’ve only remembered the good times Tish. Do remember heavy snow storms, mainly because I have a photo (1 of only approx a dozen I have of my childhood) of me as a 3 year old standing in ahead high snow drift. By the 60’s I was in NZ. But I agree private enterprise is all about profit and corner cutting. Hope you post a photo of your daffodils I miss them over here.

      2. It’s amazing what we forget, Pauline, and as you say it’s often having the photos that keep events ‘alive’ in the memory. I do remember the most colossal snow in the early 1960s. It seemed to go on for weeks. And a repeat in the early 1980s which I particularly recall because one night I stepped outside and the moisture in my nose froze. Yikes! Historic weather patterns also indicate the weather in the northern hemisphere was very warm in the 1930s/40s. Then there was a cooler period in the 1970s which was when some scientists talked about the onset of another Ice Age. I was at uni then, and it was definitely the era of the Afghan coat!

      3. I think we all treasure our photos, how many people say they are the things they save when a disaster strikes. It was the 1940’s when I was a child and not many people had cameras then

  7. I can hear the despair and frustration, Tish! Why don’t they listen? I’m sure there’s a cynical answer there but, like Su, I find it hard to watch what’s taking place. Here’s to a few more washdays! Hugs, darlin 🙂 🙂

  8. A real weather disaster for the UK and your town,Tish. Huge volumes of fast moving water must be very dangerous. Has anyone been hurt?
    I recall your post about Ironbridge. What a change.
    The Mulloon Institute property is not far from Canberra. I recall the couple incurred the ire of local council and downstream neighbours when they first began their changes to the river environment. I understand this method of water management was taught to Peter Andrew by indogenous Australuans, and that he subsequently made it his life’s work, but lost his farm in the process. Reform is slow and often comes at great personal cost. Hopefully the Mulloon Institute can sustain the momentum for change both in Australia and in other countries where the model would work well.
    I can imagine how you must be feeling, Tish. I hope lessons are learned for everyone’s sake. Here’s hoping you get a break in the weather soon.

    1. Thanks, Tracy for your good wishes, and today we do have sunshine along with freezing wind. And yes, Peter Andrews – what a very determined man. Hats off to him. Lots of good videos featuring his approach on YouTube.

      1. Yes, both ends of the planet, and parts in between, we all could do with some calmer weather. Much seems to depend on the jet stream. It’s been far too lively, and all over the place.

    1. Water – we can’t do without it, can we. Though we do need it in the right place and not filling people’s houses. Reservoirs. Now there’s a notion. Store water/slow down floods. It’s amazing to think that in the UK our last really big reservoir creation projects were in the Victoria era.

  9. It seems these stories of devastation are becoming more and more common. While some areas are starving for water, other areas are deluged … and we all know it’s only going to get worse. The sad part is that little or nothing is being done about it. The wisdom of past practices – simple and effective – seems to be lost. Sometimes I think we have entered a new Dark Age.

    1. It does seem that weather is getting worse or rather more unpredictable. But then that’s perhaps because we all know much more about what’s going on all over the place at any given time. I was reading someone’s blog post comment about weather events they’d noticed in old newspapers while doing their family research. All sorts of mayhem back in Victorian times – droughts, floods, talk of climate change. We were coming out of the Little Ice Age of the 17-18th centuries back then. The universe surely does seem to live up to Chaos Theory. That said, we humans could certainly manage things better and stop degrading the environment. There are all sorts of successful projects going on. Even China is creating new national parks, one of the latest projects looks pretty inspirational: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/china-developing-new-national-parks-system-180973549/

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