Saturday, 28 July 2007

Thoughts on the Floods

By Martin Spray.

Is the gentleman by the bowser about to fill a watering-can? But his garden’s awash! (Of course I’m smug. I’m only a few miles away, but have a 650-feet advantage over the Plaindwellers.)

It may not be PC to say so, but the events of the past few weeks (aka summer) confirm my fear that catastrophe theory is valid. Only by facing extreme conditions do we begin to accept that the views of "weirdoes" and "extremists" might have some validity. Only when peering into the Abyss do we agree that it was silly to rush towards it. Flood-plains are flood-plains are flood-plains. If you live on one, expect floods.

If water can’t go where it wants to go, it will go somewhere else ... or somewhere else. Maybe that should be in the National Curriculum. We shall soon see that ‘natural hazard’ control is like the NHS: there are many great things we can do - but we can’t afford to do them all - and some things we can't (as yet) do. It seems highly unlikely that we can stop it (or start it) raining, or stop the rivers rising. Cnut demonstrated something similar. It’s said that, in 2205 BC, the great waterway engineer Yu reported: “O Sovereign, the Earth has been reduced to order ... and the treasuries of Nature ... are all truly regulated, and may be depended on for ten thousand generations". He was wrong.

What we humans can do - and are quite good at - is live ‘with’ this thing we call Nature. But it involves backing off a bit. We can live on flood-plains, but it might need houses to be built on stilts, or with easily-evacuated basements, or, indeed, to be floatable (but not necessarily houseboats). It would certainly require the acceptance of greater diversity rather than driving for uniformity – in housing, farming, transport, lifestyle. Easy to say, of course, but if you don’t think much of the status quo then it seems reasonable to say it.

Continuing the (apparent) silliness: I remember being taken by the idea of a ‘New Midlands Forest’. I still think it would be a good idea. We should have gone ahead with it. But I wondered why we weren’t also hearing, for instance, about the New Midlands Bog. Or the New Severn Swamp ... perhaps more enticingly named the Severn Everglades (the Severnglades, even)? It would relieve us of the need to deny geography. It would allow whole communities and economies to develop with a wetland ecology. At the shallower end of 'Ecology', it would offer tremendous recreation opportunities. At the Deep End ... well, what a chance for re-wilding! And with global warming, forget puny pumas. Think alligators!

The Pludds (it means something like 'muddy patch'), Forest of Dean


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