‘I will lift up my eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my floods’
As the Moorland Association brags, 70% of the UK’s drinking water comes from the uplands – so do 70% of the UK’s floods, for water has the habit of flowing downhill. The River Ouse flowing through York, or over York, is fed by the rivers Derwent (draining the North York Moors), Aire (starting at Malham Tarn), Don (draining the Peak District), Wharfe (guess what – Wharfedale), Nidd (Nidderdale), Swale (Swaledale) and Ure (Wensleydale).
It goes without saying that the faster water gets off the hills the quicker it gets into rivers and the higher the peak flows of those rivers will be – and it is the peak flows that cause floods. the same amount of water, spread over a longer period of time, is far less of a problem. It’s like human traffic flows – if all those people came into work spread through the day then there wouldn’t be a rush hour.
Intensive grouse moor management dries out the hills in order to create a heather monoculture to favour Red Grouse at the expense of anything else; anything else such as Black Grouse, blanket bog or flood risk reduction.
No, of course driven grouse shooting is not ‘the’ cause of flooding across northern England – there are many contributory factors, but unsustainable management of our hills (where 70% of rain falls) is certainly a major factor which deserves much more attention from decision-makers. And every little harms in this case – for the peak flows are the problem and so a few inches reduction of peak flows might wipe millions of pounds off the costs of floods, which I see are now ‘guesstimated’ at over £5bn. Let’s just repeat the conjecture of yesterday – if grouse moor mismanagement is only responsible for 1% of the problem (a ludicrously generous position for me to take) then that is £50m worth of damage for a rich man’s pointless sport. Given that the water damaging York this week came from many grouse moors in the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors the 1% figure is almost certainly on the low side.
What is the mismanagement of grouse moors that exacerbates flooding? Destruction of blanket bogs is one factor and the RSPB complaint to the EU over Walshaw Moor and Natural England’s consents for intensive burning of heather moorlands across northern England is still limping along. If Defra had taken action on over-burning back in 2012 or earlier then we might be seeing less of a problem now. But they didn’t – read the story in Inglorious Chapters 4 and 5 and keep following this blog in 2016.
I heard yesterday that the bookshop in Hebden Bridge that sold copies of Inglorious at my talk there back in October is flooded, uninsured (because it is uninsurable because of the risk of flooding) and has lost 70% of its stock. It’s not clear whether millionaire grouse moor owner, Richard Bannister up the hill on Walshaw Moor, is partly to blame for this, or completely blameless, but we do know in general that the type of management that provides large numbers of chicken-like birds for the rich to shoot for fun, is the type of management that makes floods more likely and destroys businesses and ruins people’s homes. We know this. We’ve known it for quite a while.
But we still, in politics and in the media, concentrate on talking about whether enough money was spent on flood defences, which always means walls and barriers. Hills that are well managed are flood defences too. And they are the type of flood defences that northern England badly needed over the last few weeks. But the grouse moor managers won’t give us them unless they are forced to do so.
So ‘lift your eyes up unto the hills’ whence the floods come, and where the rich men live dry and cosy and unbothered by the downstream consequences of a pointless ‘sport’.