Sunday, 2 December 2012

Floods; are they a bad thing?

Gulls on flood water, Brampton 2012.
We all know floods are bad for us; right?

I know a man who's veins stand out on his brow when the river floods the crossing by our mill. (Well, it used to be a mill, but people live there now and keep their cars down on the ground floor among the sandbags.) He's not worried about the new folks in the mill, or their cars; it's the fact that he has to drive a few miles down the road to use the big bridge.  He's convinced that floods are avoidable, just a product of bad planning. I suppose Noah thought the same thing, at least at first.

There are other people in the village who just ignore the water and the "ROAD CLOSED" signs, and just drive on through. Sometimes they make it, and sometimes they don't. I hope their insurance company doesn't pay out. The police are now fining people for the trouble they cause when they drive into a flood. I'm all for freedom, but I'm against stupidity.

Floods are what always happen when it rains a lot. You can't stop it raining so you just have to live with the rising water and work round it. If it gets cold, we get snow, and then we get floods when the snow melts. In colder countries than ours, they cope with the big freeze, but they still have the spring floods. In New England, it's called mud-season, not Spring.

If you have an amphibious vehicle, then I suppose you ought to be allowed to ignore the signs and float on through. Perhaps they should make more amphibious cars, then my friend would save at least an hour a year by not having to drive round on the big road. It might add £10,000 to the cost of his car though.

I once went on the Land-rover driving course at their Solihull factory, and it was thrilling. They get you to drive along (not across) a river with water lapping round your feet. The flat nose of the 110 makes a big bow-wave and you just have to keep that lump of water ahead of you at all times. If you go too fast or, worse still, stop, that wave crashes through the grill and into the air intake on the carburettor  and  you come to a stop in a cloud of steam and bubbles. The silence is nice though. The AA won't come and get you. It's a good time to make all those phone calls that you have been putting off.  You've got all the time in the world; a rare treat. A 4x4 is not an amphibious vehicle.

I think the big problem with floods is their irregular occurrence. We used to be able to predict when they might come. Now they can happen in any month of the year. They could happen every month, or not at all for years. That's climate change.

Are floods good for anything?

In human terms, all the great civilisations grew up on river deltas where floods deposited fertile silt which produced reliable crops. You farmed the delta but built your towns on the ridges away from the river. Not a bad idea really. Where did we go wrong?

Floods are part of the system that created our landscape. They determined where marsh plants could grow, where amphibians could spawn and where marsh birds such as godwits, snipe, redshank and lapwings would nest. Plants like great dodder rely on floods to distribute seeds and enrich the ground to favour nettles which is the host plant for this rare parasite. We have experienced many years when our own Dodder Fen was so dry it became a rabbit warren. Floods are the life blood of the Ouse Valley for without them there would be no flood-plain, no Ouse Washes, no Welney and no Ouse Fen.