Alastair Humphreys is an English adventurer, author and motivational speaker. Over a four-year period he bicycled 46,000 miles around the world. He was a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2012. He is responsible for the rise of the idea of the microadventure – short, local, accessible adventures. Wikipedia
Call to abandon HS2 Chris Packham speaks out for wildlife
Well done Chris – one of the ‘champions’ for nature…….
Of course this is before we begin to consider the heritage impacts too. See my earlier blog on damage to ancient woodlands and the irreplaceable nature of woodland heritage. And yet I was at a conference to which the head of landscape for HS2 spoke, saying that there would be little damage as they would ‘…… move any ancient woods that were in the way’. I am not sure whether this was simply lies or else blissful ignorance. Either way, it is dangerous talk.
How important is your local greenspace for contact with nature?
‘We want to know about how you use your local greenspaces for contact with nature. This is a simple questionnaire for a research student and we are especially interested in people living in and around Chesterfield in North Derbyshire. But we are interested in other areas too. Please take part and pass this on! Many thanks.’
Fishlake Floods and the aftermath with BBC Radio 4
The Fishlake Floods BBC Radio 4 Jan 6 2020
06/01/2020 My Name Is…
Preamble to the programme
My Name Is Peter: I helped battle to stop the devastation caused by the Fishlake floods.
Deputy flood warden Peter Trimingham worked tirelessly to limit the impact of the Fishlake floods. He was born in the village and wants others to be spared from the horror of seeing so many suffer such loss in such a short space of time:
“That really sticks in your throat you know that regardless of your efforts you can do nothing to help people, it’s a horrible feeling
You just feel so small and insignificant and useless: this is something much more powerful than you and it can’t be imagined unless you’ve been in it.”
In this programme Peter questions those responsible for flood defences, including the Environmental Agency and speaks to academics and campaigning groups about what can be done to better protect people in the future.
He is confident that measures will be put in place to make future flooding unlikely in Fishlake, but he wants a more coordinated approach: “I don’t want to see us defended so well that it guarantees someone else gets it. That’s not what we are about as a country.”
When the water levels began to rise on Friday, Peter went out in his Jeep to fill sandbags and deliver them to neighbours: “We were driving along and all of a sudden we were lifted up by the flood water in a sideways flow which shoved us into a drain. We had to climb out otherwise we could have drowned,” he said.
In the recordings he meets local families suffering as insurance companies delay and even initially refused payments. He lives in the one of the “lowest house in the village,” and it was a race against time to get belongings off the floor as the water started seeping in from every hole and crevice:
“You’re in your house that you’ve lived in and you’re frantically trying to get things away and at this stage you have no idea how high the water will rise.”
Within hours of the floods people began donating food, clothing and essential supplies to St Cuthbert’s church. Its pews are now stuffed with bedding and supplies are covering all available surfaces. Peter chats with organisers who feel that long term solutions can in part come from locals doing more to plant trees and encourage wildlife in the future.
When Peter was a boy rain from the hills of Sheffield would take a full day to reach Fishlake: “now with the spread of warehouses, concrete and block paving that run-off time is twelve hours: ““When we got to Stainforth Bridge we could see it was overbanking quite heavily, filling up low level areas. Some of the houses were wrecked as the floods took hold. Its photographs, memories, clothing and belongings – they’re all gone. It’s heart-breaking.”
Produced by Sue Mitchell
A little background to the programme:
When Peter Trimingham volunteered to become a flood warden in the Yorkshire village of Fishlake he hadn’t really imagined that one day he might be facing the toughest challenge of his life. Exactly two months ago his home and many others were flooded and he battled through the night to help people get to safety. As the village attempts to rebuild he investigates what went wrong and what can be done to help prevent this happening again.
Peter grew up in Fishlake, on the outskirts of Doncaster, and was one of five flood wardens in the village: two of them over 70 and the other three over 60. They had some sand ready, but on the night this quickly ran out as they rapidly filled the hessian sand bags. With the roads blocked they waited for hours for fresh supplies to be delivered. The scale of the disaster took everyone by surprise because the village hadn’t been flooded since 1947. The memory of past floods had faded as new generations had moved in and only grainy photographs documented the past:
“There’s a gorgeous photograph in the village of past flooding. The flood water used to shoot down the main street and the locals had it cracked. They’ve got barrels of beer positioned carefully from the step to the pub and raised up by about five feet and they’ve got barrels in the road and planks that run from the door of the pub across to the higher ground at the other side of the road. They’d be walking across it to get their beer. And that’s in 1923,” said Peter
According to Professor Ian Rotherham, an ecologist and environmental historian from Sheffield Hallam University, there were numerous factors at play on the night of the floods, but essentially Fishlake was caught in a pincer movement between two rivers, the Don and Ea Beck. They both burst their banks into an area heavily sodden from rain over a period of weeks. What made matters worse was that Fishlake is built on boggy fenland that had been drained many years ago:
“I’ve been studying the history of the area and was talking to community groups down the River Don and various people were saying ‘well my granddad used to have a boat and we didn’t know why.’ All the way from Sheffield, right down to Doncaster, the communities had boats because they knew they got flooded five, six times a year. And you just had the boat, like the guys with the barrels of beer: you were prepared. But then from the 1950s we’ve engineered the solutions and people forgot that they ever needed that and just said ‘oh yeah, we thought my granddad was bonkers!”
Peter Trimingham and the other flood wardens accept that a degree of complacency had crept in but believe that some of the problems in Fishlake have their roots in flood defence systems introduced a decade earlier in Sheffield. In the 2007 floods, there had been two deaths and hundreds of evacuations. They prompted significant investments in new defences, with protection schemes put in place down the Don Valley around the city at a cost of around £20 million. Professor Rotherham agrees that measures to shore up defences in Sheffield whilst successful in protecting businesses, may have exacerbated problems downstream:
“In Sheffield the main factories and other areas affected in 2007 are now protected. However, if you are keeping the water out there, then you are moving it faster downstream, and Fishlake bore the brunt of this. You’re not holding the water in the upper catchment – defending those businesses and premises means you’re moving the water downstream faster. It’s going to hit sooner, harder and deeper.”
Further investment of around £83 million of government funding is also planned for potentially controversial engineering projects to dam the major valleys west of Sheffield.
On the night of November 8th Peter and the other flood wardens were powerless to both the speed and the force of the water, which led to half of the 250 homes in the village being flooded. Many residents were evacuated and are still unable to return. The chaos and confusion of that first night is evident today and many homes hum and drone with heaters, dehumidifiers and fans. Peter, his wife Fiona, and their son Paddy, have just started sleeping in their home again but the downstairs is a wreck and it’s not clear when they’ll get the final go ahead from insurers to begin rebuilding.
For many in Fishlake the loss can’t be quantified in monetary terms: it’s everything, from photos and memories, through to treasured posession and mementos. The water came in so fast that it was hard to save things and people were working in the dark, with freezing cold water pouring through every crack and hole and rising quickly: “It’s pretty traumatic. You’ve not got vision; you’ve got darkness and floodwater two very, very dangerous combinations.
“You have no concept of time. You can’t see and my phone was destroyed in the flood water anyway. You feel so small and insignificant and useless: something much more powerful than you can’t be imagined unless you’ve been in it. All our furniture was damaged downstairs, everything is more or less wrecked and all the soft furnishings have gone in the skips. The water has gradually settled and we managed to pump a lot out. We keep the fires burning downstairs and we can just about manage to sleep upstairs.”
It’s this experience which has helped shape the response in the village, with the community joining together in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. The local church, St Cuthbert’s, has acted as a storage hub for hundreds of donations of food, clothing, children’s toys and cleaning products ranging from mops to vats of disinfectant. Local farmers used their tractors to help get people to safety, with Greg Mawson describing how he battled to save others, only to return to find thousands of tonnes of straw lost:
“When you see all your hard work just ruined within a week, its sole destroying. The further you go, the deeper it gets. We’re at eight foot of water at its deepest. So it’s in a mess – you can’t even move around the yard. You spend so much time and effort making everything as good as you can make it and something like this just destroys it. We could still get into a village, so that was our main focus, to try and help people in the village as much as we could.“
Residents in Fishlake who are either not covered for flood damage on home insurance, or who are yet to receive pay-outs, have received two recovery grants of around £700 in total from Doncaster Council and a local charity, South Yorkshire Community Foundation. According to Peter Trimingham, the response from insurers has been mixed, with some residents paid quickly and able to get on with re-building, and others who are left arguing about what is covered and what needs to be done. This all adds to the stress that he and others face and is a source of division in the community:
“It’s incredibly stressful because you go from coming downstairs to a flooded house or worse, you’re in a flooded bungalow and left with just the clothes you’re stood in. Some people have to wait because the insurance companies are slow – that means you don’t get the house cleared. You don’t get the dehumidifiers in. For my own home it was day 21 before we got fully dehumidified and everybody knows that can take several weeks. That’s the experience people are going through now. So a natural disaster is followed by a human disaster and that is at the point where people are really, really low and you can’t expect everybody to come out able to deal with that.”
It is this feeling of helplessness that is leading people in the village to demand more input in solutions moving forward. They don’t want to see a situation in which Fishlake is safeguarded at the expense of pushing the problem onto other communities. It’s an issue that Alison Slack, from Fishlake Cricket Club, is keen to explore, particularly given the impact of climate change: “I think we’re reactive to flooding and given what’s happening we need to become more proactive. Putting in a flood defences only means you’re going to move a problem somewhere else and I seriously would not want anybody going through what the village has gone through.”
Wendy Brownbridge, a church warden at St Cuthbert’s, helped prepare the church so that people could sleep there on the night of the floods. She’s been at the forefront of the relief effort ever since and is keen that people embrace the idea that they can play a part: “It’s about getting back to managing, where we can, places like hay meadows, and it’s what people can do. We need to plant more trees. This is important because we’ve got lovely countryside and we need to remember how to take care of things and ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
For Peter Trimingham, the floods have led to growing interest in how we manage water and what can be done to help people feel less powerless. One scheme which has caught his attention is being piloted in Hull and overseen by Dr Liz Sharp, from the University of Sheffield. It involves rainwater harvesting using water butts in flood areas: “The project is just finishing now and so far we’ve just looked at which people will be willing to take water butts for this purpose and a few simple calculations on what impact it would have,” says Dr Sharp:
“What we also found is that quite a few of the people we talked to actually said, well, if, if they were to text us and tell us when to empty our water out, we would empty it to create more capacity and people were really willing to do that because they know that they’re vulnerable to flooding. They know it’s a horrible experience and they want to help other people and prevent that problem.”
For Peter Trimingham that emphasis on community engagement is key: “It’s this feeling that you’re doing something and that you’re contributing to the public good as well as your own good. We just need more ideas like that, that are so simple and that have so much impact for so little cost. People can feel they’re actually doing something as opposed to the way that we felt in Fishlake. We were flooded and we felt lacking in power. We weren’t empowered at all. This empowers ordinary people to do something brilliant.”
Another scheme to catch his attention has taken root in Sheffield: it’s part of a project to transform semi-redundant roads into a network of sustainable drainage and rain gardens under the Grey to Green scheme. Drainage capabilities – intended to fend off flooding – are at the core of the project and any water that isn’t filtered by the scheme is discharged directly into the River Don. At Porter Brook, in the heart of the city, brown trout are now back in the river and wildlife is blooming in a small section of the waterway.
According to Professor Ian Rotherham, it signals a way forward that can offer long term hope for communities affected by flooding: “What we’ve done here is a very small contribution. It’s created a pocket park, a lovely amenity and in the event of the floods this space will hold the water. I think it has enlightened city council planning and developers who are prepared to actually go the extra distance to create this. It’s created a gorgeous little spot. We’ve even got salmon spawning this year in the upper reaches of the River Don. That’s brilliant, but the long-term solution has to join up approaches along the entire river system – from top to bottom – all joined up to work with nature and with communities throughout the region.”
According to Peter Trimingham, the flood warden from Fishlake who took on rather more than he ever imagined on the night of the floods, there is hope that some good might come out of what’s happened to his community: “It’s got to start in Westminster. It can’t start in Fishlake. Fishlake could be the inspiration for the thought behind it. We need to make decisions about planning, we make decisions about water, and we’ve got to stop treating it as the enemy that comes over the bank. It needs to be the friend and we need to look after it.”
Derbyshire’s ancient wood at Whitwell – How to trash an ancient woodland in one easy lesson from the Forestry Commission!
The context of the comments and images that follow, is that Whitwell Wood is a mix of ‘ancient woodland’ and ‘replanted ancient woodland’, with a rich ecology associated with its geology of Magnesian Limestone, and a unique but undocumented archaeology & woodland heritage interest.
Whitwell Wood is a wonderful site and heavily used by local people for recreation and for wildlife watching. Although much of the site was replanted in the mid-twentieth century following timber extraction for World War One, that work would have been done manually and much of the ancient landscape beneath the layers of twentieth-century activity remained as heritage, as testimony to communities and generations who worked the wood over many centuries before that time.
It was in the 1970s and 1980s that the local natural history group began to discover the rich heritage of this site – which still to this day remains unresearched and undocumented. There are major earthwork features and enclosures extending over many hundreds of metres in length. There are prehistoric mounds and banks and ditches, and medieval platforms and pits. The area is overlain by ancient and medieval field-systems, trackways and boundaries, and lynchets. This is a truly amazing site.
Some years ago we had a major damaging incident where machines went in during late winter and caused absolute havoc – although as the Forestry Commission’s specialist advisor told me when I complained, ‘We only went through the prehistoric monument a couple of times…..’, and the platforms destroyed were ‘….just a few medieval charcoal heaths….’ Well, I am not sure how many times you cut through a 1- metre+ high prehistoric monument would be acceptable…..! I was also told that the vehicle used was ‘low impact‘ – in which case I await with baited breath to see the high impact one….
I was assured that the situation was a one-off accident and would not be allowed to happen again……….but see below for the current work. Totally unacceptable and unprofessional.
Since that time there has still be no attempt to evaluate the remarkable heritage landscape of Whitwell Wood – and our offers to do this have been ignored.
And in case it isn’t obvious – this is the footpath!
This damage is spread through many 100s of metres into and throughout a large section of the wood; the ruts are a good metre deep.
There is nothing inherently wrong in extracting useable timber from a working wood. However, in the past this was done by men, horses, oxen even, and shear hard, physical labour. Today the process often involves a single operator and a very large machine which is a single afternoon can erase an historic landscape perhaps 1,000 to 2,000 years old.
Close by the timber stack and the deeply gouged landscape, there is an archaeological feature here – not clear because the light was poor and shown merely to illustrate a point. This was within just a few metres of a severely damaged area – and essentially indicates that this entire landscape is a woodland heritage area.
The underlying issue here is the lack of effective survey and assessment and hence management planning – all pretty basic stuff but not happening here as delivered by our public forestry operator / advisor. There has been a haemorrhaging of skills in the environmental agencies due to progressive government cuts over the last twenty years or so. This means that the opportunities to raise awareness and to train good and sensitive operators is reduced to virtually nil.
Privatisation of woods & of forestry services
Much of the work is now outreached to practical contractors with little understanding of site sensitivity or best practice in terms of minimising damage. Work such as this should use low impact vehicles with ‘balloon tyres’, should have clearly marked np o-go areas where sensitive features are identified and protected, and work should be effectively supervised and assessed. Furthermore, the operators should be effectively trained and supervised to work in difficult and sensitive sites. None of this is happening here and the driver for the work is the ‘bottom line’. Almost certainly, there was no prior survey. inadequate supervision, and the contract will have gone to the lowest tender submitted.
Earthworks, humps & bumps
Bear in mind that in ancient woodland the heritage and archaeology are often the actual land surface – the soils, rocks and sediments which are markers of human activity over millennia. Once disrupted and erased these are lost forever and over time the site is inexorably eroded, erased, and obliterated. [Think ‘Time Team’, ‘Dig for Britain’ etc. for an idea of the level of interest which is being wantonly destroyed……]
I liken this to taking a felt pen marker to the Mona Lisa – you still have a painting but not so good as the original! The late Oliver Rackham said such incidents were like taking an illuminated medieval manuscript from a library and replacing it with, say, a Jeffery Archer paperback novel.
I am truly appalled – yet again – and would ask you to circulate this article to anyone who might be interested or able to help.
I guess this is just the tip of the iceberg and similar damage is occurring elsewhere – and of course paid for by ‘us’ the public. Can anybody help raise awareness to get this desecration of our unique woodland heritage halted………? If so, please get in touch!