Monday, 3 December 2012

Wet Wet Wet

Throughout history there are tales of the constant battle between humans and the forces of nature; Noah and his ark, King Canute ordering the sea to stop, Li Bing taming rivers in Chinese culture. In the past, human life was ruled by the changing of the moon, the seasons and the rising of the tides but in modern life it's easy to believe we have conquered the natural world and control it at will.

In reality we know this isn't true and over the past 10 days we've seen news story after news story covering floods all over the UK. We do not control the weather, we merely use it on its tamer days to our advantage.

The South West was one of the first areas to be hit by severe storms last weekend with Exeter train lines halted and roads closed in various directions. I became very familiar with the Environment Agency's Flood Warning website but thankfully despite living in a flood plain the defences for the  city centre worked as they should and our house wasn't affected. Hearing the rain pouring down and passing the river each morning did fill me with a renewed sense of awe for nature though.

Once the rain has stopped I ventured out and took some photo's of the swollen river. It had already receded several feet since the weekend but was still covering paths, grass, trees and roaring along. While the damage to human residences and businesses is terrible I'm always reminded of the impact flooding and natural disasters have on the natural world itself, and its wildlife. Habitats can be lost in seconds, and wont be very high on the list of things to fix afterwards. Also, I have no idea what happens to fish during a very big flood. Do they find somewhere quiet to hide away in while things get back to normal or are they swept down river?

The trees where we spotted our first Exeter Kingfisher last summer, the branch we saw it on is several feet underwater in this picture.

The path of my normal river walk follows that white line running under the water. There are also at least three more steps that are underneath there and the river must be about 6m wider than normal.
See the "tide line" of debris over the path to the left. Shows how  high the river had been previously.

Raging torrents of the weir and on the opposite bank a TV woman doing an interview from the soggy flooded garden of a great riverside pub.

This summer has been very wet and particularly during the spring floods there were many wildlife victims. There were some success stories too though. While the brand new visitor centre at RSPB Radipole was plunged into meters of water staff at the nearby RSPB Lodmoor reserve acted quickly to save the fledgling common terms by using inflatable mattresses as rescue rafts until water levels dropped again. 

The huge forces of nature can be terrible and uncontrollable, but we can use some of their strength for good without trying to tame them completely.  Renewable power sources make clean energy from the waves, wind, sun and tides all around us. We must live in partnership with the natural world, understanding that floods will happen (so we maybe shouldn't build in flood plains or make sure other areas are free for the overflow), droughts will happen (so we need good ways of storing water from the wet times) and that we cannot predict it all but must live with the consequences. Let's hope the recent floods give all politicians (not just President Obama) the motivation to deal with our current conservation, energy and environmental issues to make the world a better, cleaner and safer one for both us and the thousands of other living things we share the planet with.

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