Wet, wet, wet

By Alpsdake, via Wikimedia Commons
By Alpsdake, via Wikimedia Commons

If you are keeping water on a wetland for the benefit of wetland wildlife then it occupies some of the volume that could otherwise have been used for flood storage.

This can give rise to the claim that the schemes that benefit wetland wildlife that have exacerbated flood impacts. To some extent this is bound to be true – but to what extent?

Hardly any, according to this summary (of this full report) from the Somerset Levels – remember the Somerset Levels?

‘The assessment finds that the volume of water maintained within ditches, and corresponding reduction in flood storage capacity, represents a very small fraction of the volume of flood water stored on the moors during major flood events. Expressed both as a proportion of the maximum flood volume or change in flood level, the calculations indicate that winter raised water level areas have only a very minor impact on large flood events. Water levels for agriculture in summer occupy larger volumes, but these are still small compared to volumes of water stored on the moors during major flood events.’

In other words, as is so often true when we think about it, we can wildlife with very little trouble at all.  That’s nice isn’t it?


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12 Replies to “Wet, wet, wet”

  1. A very valuable conclusion that justifies maintaining the raised water level areas for the benefit of wetland birds. Unfortunately, I don’t imagine it will have much influence on the likes of Ian Liddell-Grainger or the Daily Mail with their ‘common sense’ assessments of what is required to manage flood risk.

  2. Call me cold hearted and perhaps I’m missing something here but I struggle to sympathize with the flood victims of places like the Somerset Levels. To my mind they shouldn’t build houses on natural flood plains and if they do you shouldn’t buy one and if you do, don’t winge when you get flooded.

  3. Thanks for bringing our attention to this report. It is very important that we manage flood water in a sensible way that is evidenced. The nonsense spoken by the MP or the IDB or the Prime Minister was unedifying in the extreme during the floods and did them a great dis-service.

    Moreover, land drainage is really pretty bonkers. In former fenland Yorkshire (which covers a huge area across the Humberhead Levels and Vale of York and Mowbray), IDBs drain the land as far as they possibly can. This is bonkers on three counts:

    1. There is little need during the winter as crops are not growing. The water storage argument doesn’t stack up (as the Somerset Levels report notes).

    2. In summer, we only need to drain to the point that crops can grow – not meters down but a foot or two.

    3. And because we drain the landscape so hard, when we get drought, we end up irrigating crops using dwindling water supplies in rivers – at great cost to riverine wildlife.

    And all of this is mostly paid for by …… us.

    Its a crazy crazy world.

  4. I believe the above comments miss the point that floods on Somerset Levels like the seriously bad ones late last year and early this year were as bad for the birds as for the farmers and house owners.

    1. I think you are the one missing the point Dennis. The point is that the management of water levels for birds did not contribute significantly to the flooding or, to put it another way, if the water levels in the bird areas had not been kept high there would still have been a major flood. It is not relevant whether or not the prolonged floods were good or bad for wildlife, the question is whether the management of the Levels PRIOR to the flood was responsible for the flooding. The conclusion of this study is that neither the raised water levels maintained for wetland birds nor the levels maintained for summer grazing were significant contributory factors in the flooding.
      Given this is the case it is justified to maintain the existing water level management scheme because the benefits it brings (to wildlife and cattle graziers) in normal non-flood conditions outweigh the very minor additional flood risk it imposes. If we want to reduce the risk of a major flood event it would be much more productive to look for ways to slow the run off from higher up the catchment.

  5. “If we want to reduce the risk of a major flood event it would be much more productive to look for ways to slow the run off from higher up the catchment.”

    Yes. That’s the Monbiot mantra. And it might help.

    But if we really want to control, mitigate or even stop flooding we can do so in a number of ways.
    But at what cost?
    Both direct cost of work and indirect cost (what do we NOT do elsewhere because we’ve (the taxpayers, local govt. or whitehall) have spent our kitty on saving 12 hyses on the levels for example).

    Professor Bates of Bristol University summed it up perfectly to a Somerset farmer on BBC news this morning… (I’d have loved to have seen her response if she indeed had any).
    They’d call the conversation between Bates & Farmer (link below) as “Prof OWNS farmer” on social media I think.

    1. “we’ve … spent our kitty on saving 12 hyses on the levels”

      There was loads of money for Steart Marshes and Pawlett Hams

      1. Rightly, Filbert, as Steart and Pawlett are about long-term sustainability. Pouring money into maintaining the status quo may not be, much as it has implications for some of those living there.

        1. “Pouring money into maintaining the status quo …”

          … of habitat area for wading birds as required by the EU Habitats Directive to compensate for loss of habitat caused by EA constructing flood defences in the Severn Estuary

  6. I did not and will not go into arguments put forward by comments.
    What I said was simply that serious floods are not good for birds.
    Following on from that it is obvious that millions of small mammals lost their lives in Levels serious floods and so it must be a good policy to avoid major floods on Levels.
    Following on if Levels are to be farmed then houses close to those animals are essential and the Dutch find ways to protect them in similar situation in Holland.
    The Levels in my opinion have a very good record with birds when the usual amount of flooding over the last century is taken into consideration which is probably the most beneficial for birds also the farmers on the Levels seem at least as compassionate towards birds as anywhere in the country with in my opinion very very little if any illegal persecution and how many areas can claim that.

    1. Hi Dennis
      No-one, to my knowledge, has suggested that the floods on the Levels were good for wildlife. You asserted that the other comments on this blog missed the point but I don’t think they did. Major floods lying for as long as these ones did are accepted by most people as a bad thing for a variety of reasons; the question is what we should and shouldn’t do to try and prevent them happening again. The point about the report featured in the blog is that it made clear that maintaining lower water levels in the bird conservation areas in the winter or across the whole Levels in the summer, compared to current practice, would not significantly reduce the risk of another serious flood event. Given that the current water level regimes are beneficial otherwise, it would therefore be a bad idea to change them in exchange for a minimal improvement in flood risk, don’t you agree?

  7. The report is simply a complete waste of lots of money and means absolutely nothing to anyone familiar with the Levels,especially those living there.
    All this nonsense about what is needed in summer is complete bunkum and depends entirely on each twelve months weather.
    I very much doubt if one person on the Levels thinks that the level of water in wildlife reserves whatever it is has any effect whatsoever on the level of floods overall on the levels.
    Farmers on Levels seem quite happy with wildlife reserves and do not see them as conflict but we did have in the South West on a program about flooding on the levels a ridiculous RSPB person against dredging because of Kingfishers nesting,how silly when serious flood wash them out and dredging may well avoid that also there are so many opportunities for them to nest on other rivers,dykes etc on the levels that would not be dredged at the same time.
    Report simply jobs for the boys and money completely wasted.

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