Giving Our Rivers a Bit of Wiggle Room

Posted on November 22, 2021

I was watching ‘The Lakes’ with Simon Reeve last night, and I was struck by some of the programme’s content.  

On one section of the programme, Reeve was talking to a couple of geomorphologists. I will confess that I had never heard of this profession before. However, I quickly realised what a future role they will play in the natural environment.  

Increased Flooding

In layman’s terms, they explained many of the reasons flooding is becoming a regular occurrence. Of course, we all know about climate change and intense rainfall. What I didn’t understand is how humans have created the perfect storm through intensive farming.  

These guys explained that by receiving grants, farmers were paid by successive governments to straighten rivers. This involved building high walls and barriers to stop the water flooding into nearby fields and soaking away. This was undertaken to create more land for crops.

So, in effect, the river became a straight water flume from the mountains down into urban areas such as Carlisle (badly flooded in 2016). The chap went on to explain that a winding river is just like a winding road. The water slows down goes and into natural flood plains.

Misdirected Funding

Councils are using government funding (often not enough) to build city centre flood defences when they could cure the problem naturally. This can be done by using the money to encourage farmers to let rivers flow naturally again.

It is starting to happen in some areas of Cumbria but 60% of Britain’s rivers have been straightened by farming. A bigger effort is needed. Basically, when towns and villages get flooded, it is often due to state funded farming practices that are not conducive to climate change.

Reeve visited another area where the drains have been unblocked to allow wetlands to return. It’s a good news story where most of the biodiversity has returned. Seeing nesting Osprey in the Cumbrian wetlands shows that with effort and ingenuity, we can learn to deal with climate change by leaving the natural environment alone.

We probably won’t bother.

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