Friday, 31 January 2014

Wet, isn't it?

You may have noticed that we have had a bit of rain lately. Actually, we had a lot of rain in the spring last year too and the water just never went away.

"Sapper" Hall and the sluice. 
People can blame the Council, the Government and the Environment Agency if they like, but the truth is that there is just too much rain and the land is too flat. I'm actually impressed that the river has not flooded us out more than it has.

Anyway, a bit of flooding is natural and good for wildlife. Perhaps it's God's way of telling us not to build so many houses by the river? From a wildlife point of view, we need more ponds that don't have fish in them, but this is ridiculous! I'll soon need a life jacket to walk around the trails.

Floods become a serious issue for us when they don't drain away. The Heronry Lakes drain into the river at the Viewpoint through Southoe Brook but none of our other lakes has an outlet. Cloudy Pit just spreads out across the meadow and sometimes it joins with Rudd Pit making our boardwalk into a bridge. In an extreme case their combined water flows across the Ouse Valley Way into the river. Hayling Pit never seems to flood and has plenty of capacity to hold more water. The bigger lakes in the quarry are more of a  problem.

We want to keep the water low in Diddington and Pumphouse Pits where islands have been created for nesting waders and terns. We have had avocets and little ringed plovers breed there, but last year and this the water has risen and covered most of the islands. We have tried pumping water into Island Pit which we use as a reservoir, but it is overflowing now and putting water back into the other lakes.

On behalf of us all, Ray Matthews (Chairman of the Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve) has been negotiating with the land-owners, the quarry and the Environment Agency to find a way to get the water level in our lakes reduced. The answer seems obvious; you send it down-hill to the river. However, there is no hill to go down; everything is more or less flat. By carefully surveying the land, a route has been found that will enable us to control the water levels by gravity, at least when the river level is lower than the lakes.

Work has begun on the scheme and I will report on progress as the weeks go by. Out first success has been to make a ditch and a sluice that can take water in a controlled manner from Island Pit to the big ditches that run into the river. However, we have also had to remove some trees and slub out the ditches so that they could take the water.

The sluice is a masterpiece of DIY engineering and voluntary effort and the hero if the day has been Ranger Matt (Call Me Sapper) Hall who designed and led the building of this WW2 style fox-hole. We will turn on the valves on Monday and fill it with water.

The next stage has already started and  Ranger Rob Martyr has been responsible for the finishing touches and some clever details. Bardon Aggregates and the Friends of Paxton Pits are funding the work which is being carried out by staff, volunteers and contractors. The digging is being done by Neil's Plant and the tree work by David Oliver.

More news in the next few weeks. Now all we need is for it to stop raining. Please.