Storm Angus, the Amber rain and Holnicote

Following Storm Angus last weekend a piece appeared in the Guardian which reported that the Natural Flood Management measures introduced by the National Trust on its Holnicote Estate on Exmoor had been effective at protecting over 100 houses downstream from flooding.

You can read that article here.

Nigel Hester, the Holnicote NFM Project Manager for the National Trust posted some pictures of Allerford during the storm


screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-09-38-42As Storm Angus was quickly followed by the Amber rain event I was keen to find out what happened after Angus

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-09-30-01The first peak is Angus and the second is the Amber rain event – I wanted to check with Nigel that the villages and homes had survived flood free both of the events. I asked him “looking at your picture of the Packhouse Inn – does that mean that eventually the river broke its bank and flooded the village?”

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-09-31-39This is his reply – no flooding.

This is very good news and a very impressive outcome considering there were two large flood events in succession. When the Amber rain arrived there was still a lot of water in the system from Angus.

This is a major story and one that should be of interest to local communities and politicians everywhere.

It appears to me that a well designed and correctly located natural flood management scheme can make a real difference on the ground. Now all that is needed is some modest funding and some political will.



Coastal erosion at Leasfoot Beach

Apart from seeing the Desert Wheatear on Leasfoot Beach near Thurlestone last weekend I also came across the aftermath of the 2014 storms which hit the south coast of Devon.

The small road which runs down from the cliff top car park towards the golf course has been swept away

leasfoot-beach-1Looking back from the other direction you get a good impression of how much land the sea gouged out

south-milton-sandsFrom the top car park you look down onto South Milton Sands – the same storm removed a lot of the sand dunes and also took away the road at the far end of the beach where the buildings are.

Sea level rise and increased storminess resulting from climate change will make these kind of episodes more common in the future.

The aurochs of Whitesands Bay

The Visitor Centre in St David’s in Pembrokeshire had a small display about an aurochs horn that was found on the exposed beach of Whitesands Bay during the winter storms of 2014. Aurochs are now globally extinct but formerly they were the wild ox of Europe. See here for the BBC report of the find.

Auroch 1
The aurochs horn of Whitesands Bay

Auroch 2The skeleton of an aurochs from a Danish Museum

Auroch 3Aurochs feature in the rock art of the caves of Lascaux (dates back to the last Ice Age)

Aurochs were large aggressive cattle and were hunted by Neolithic and Bronze Age people. By the end of the Bronze Age they were very rare and it is thought that they went extinct in Britain during Roman times. Julius Caesar saw aurochs in France and wrote about them in De Bello Gallico. “These are a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, colour, and shape of a bull. Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast which they have espied.

The last auroch went extinct in 1627 in Poland. For more on aurochs – see here.

Attempts have been made to ‘re-create’ auroch via selective breeding. During World War 2 the Nazis began a breeding programme to produce auroch so that they could be hunted. The programme was led by the Heck brothers and they produced the Heck Cattle which survive today and are used in a number of re-wilding projects across Europe.

Heck 2
A Heck bull along with a herd of Konig ponies at the Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands
Via Wikimedia Commons Grote grazers GerardM

Heck 1And here are some Heck cattle in an enclosure in Bavaria
Via Wikimedia Commons Altaileopard

The Heck Cattle project was not that soundly conceived as the animals used for the back breeding were not well chosen. A new attempt is now being made to re-create the aurochs – it is called the Tauros Programme – see more details here.

The herd of Chillingham Wild Cattle in Northumberland are said to be a very close descendent of the aurochs – see here and here for more details.



Holming Beam’s destroyed woodland

When we were out last Sunday 10 Tors training we drove (several times!) down the long narrow road to Holming Beam near Princetown. It reminded me of January / February 2014 when four large storms hit the southwest – they were named Hercules, Take 2, Bridget and Strike 4.

Take 2
Here are the wave maps for Hercules and Take 2

One of these storms, either Bridget or Strike 4 caused the destruction of the thin conifer plantation running beside the road to Holming Beam.

Holming Beam woodland
If I had videoed the scene from the minibus window as we drove down the road it would have lasted over 30 seconds.

What is most interesting is that the woodland that was flattened was a conifer plantation – further down the road the woodland becomes deciduous and even though that woodland is more exposed that woodland lost far fewer trees.

Remembering the Solomon Browne – the Penlee lifeboat disaster

I sea kayak, gig row, swim, body board and ‘surf’ in the sea and as a result I have been  a supporter of the RNLI for many years.

Late last year was the 35th anniversary of the Penlee lifeboat disaster – 16  people lost their lives after the Union Star foundered off Boscawen Cliff between Lamorna and Porthcurno on the 19th December 1981. The crew of the lifeboat Solomon Browne and the crew of the Union Star perished.

Whenever I am in the area I like to pay my respects to those brave RNLI men.
Penelee 1Here is the memorial to the Penlee lifeboat crew- most of whom were from Mousehole.

Penelee 2
Here is the Penlee lifeboat station – which is now closed

Penelee 3
And here is the memorial garden – all very moving

Following the sinking of the Solomon Browne the Penlee lifeboat was replaced by a self righting boat which  could not be launched via a slipway. As a result the Penlee boat was relocated to the harbour at Newlyn. Today the RNLI boat at Newlyn is the Severn Class Ivan Ellen. This is the same class of boat as is found on the Isles of Scilly – The Whiteheads.

The RNLI boat at Sennen which I wrote about yesterday (City of London) is a Tamar class boat it is smaller but can be run down a slipway.  The new boat at Exmouth is a Shannon class boat called the R&J Welburn – it lives in a boat house but is launched via the slipway by a ‘tractor’. All these lifeboats operate in the most extreme conditions but  their Class/type of boat depends on the topography of their harbours and whether they are sheltered or not.

If you use the sea and don’t support the RNLI maybe you should think about it?


Natural Flood Management on Countryfile

Countryfile on Sunday did a couple of films on how to manage the problems associated with the recent floods. The two pieces featured examples from the south west.

You can watch Sunday’s Countryfile by pressing here and viewing on the BBC’s  iPlayer. The first piece is about natural flood management schemes also known as ‘upstream measures’. This section is 7 minutes 32 seconds into the programme.

Nigel Hester - Countryfile
It features the work carried out by the National Trust on its Holnicote Estate in Somerset. This is a picture of Nigel Hester, the NT’s project manager with Tom Heap from Countryfile. It is a widely acclaimed scheme and I am visiting Holnicote next week to meet Nigel and be shown around – I will report back.

The National Trust have also recently published the report on the Holnicote project “From Source to Sea – Natural Flood Management” and you can download it here. The project was funded by DEFRA, the Environment Agency and the NT and involved the University of Exeter, JBA Consulting and Penny Anderson Associates Ltd. It is well worth a read as I am sure it will be a major  building block for much that we will see happen in the future to ‘slow the flow’.

The second part of the Countryfile piece on flooding tackled dredging and focused on the Somerset Levels. That part starts 26 minutes 58 seconds in. Again a very balanced piece and is well worth watching.

Part of the challenge with dealing with floods is to separate fact from fiction, hyperbole and prejudice. There are lots of competing interests when it comes to this topic and I thought Countryfile did a good job in setting this out.



300 year old tree falls in a storm and tells a story

When I visited Brownsea a few weeks ago I came across this fallen oak.

Brownsea tree
The date the tree fell down in a storm is routed into the trunk. The Rangers then counted the annual growth rings to determine when it germinated as an acorn.

1687 – King James II on the throne and Isaac Newton publishes this book on the laws of motion and gravity

327 years – not bad

Not seen that done before  – a good idea – makes you think

December 2015 – what you knew, a surprise and future prospects

The following two maps come courtesy of the Met Office. One depicts the temperature in December and the other maps the rainfall in December. Here is the BBC / Met Office take on the data.

December temperature 15
So, 2015 has been the warmest year on record with regards to the global temperature and December 2015 has been the warmest ever in the UK. The temperature in Devon has been 3.5+ degrees above the average. I guess we all knew that ….

December rain 15
And so onto the rainfall data – yes, again we all know this December has been incredibly wet – we’ve seen Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank along with all that flooding ‘up North’. But look at the map with regards to Devon and Dartmoor. Most of Devon has seen average December rainfall whilst East Devon has only seen 75% of the average. I wasn’t expecting that. We had to cancel one of our 10 Tors training weekends in December because of wind and rain and we got soaked on the other one.

Maize field mudI have been writing and tweeting about rain, maize and muddy roads

So I didn’t expect to find out that my part of the world had only had 75% of the average rainfall for December.

To be honest – it has been bad enough with only 75% of the normal rain – just imagine what it would be like in Devon if we had had 300% of the average.

The worry is – we might just see that before too long.

Listen to what Michael Mann has to say about the weather , El Nino and climate change here.

In case  you don’t know him – he is probably the most famous and respected climate change scientist in the world.

And this is what this week’s New Scientist Magazine has got to say about UK Storms – they are here to say.

Happy New Year.


About the mild autumn

Yesterday the National Trust’s specialist on nature and wildlife, Matthew Oates, wrote a piece about the mild autumn weather and the impact it has having on plants and animals. It is worth a read – you can see it here.

In ‘normal’ years spring flowers flower in the spring but on a quick walk around Parke yesterday I found wild strawberries flowering along with hogweed, dandelion, hawkbit, scarlet pimpernel, Herb Robert, prickly sow thistle and euphorbias.

The pansies outside Home Farm Cafe are still in full bloom

Leaf beetle
I even found this chrysomelid leaf beetle out and about. By mid November you would expect that the frosts would have killed the insects off or would have driven them into shelter to hibernate for the autumn and winter

The Avenue of beech trees is still full of colour too but as I write Storm Barney is imminent. It is still very mild though – I am in a short sleeved shirt and haven’t got the heating on, but after today and Barney’s winds I suspect most of the leaves will have been blown off the trees. The Met Office are also forecasting much colder weather at the weekend. We might be finally heading towards winter – we will see.



I’ve found someone who loves this weather!

It is all too easy with this weather to think that all is doom and gloom. Clearly people prefer sunny weather but at the end of the day sunny weather all the time isn’t good for the environment! Plants need water and of course slugs and snails flourish when it is cool, damp and wet. Cool damp and wet means lots of slugs and snails and in due course this will mean lots of song thrushes and other birds and insects.

Garden snailThe garden snail – photographed yesterday enjoying yet another downpour

Carabus intricatus

This is the blue ground beetle (Carabus intricatus) – perhaps one of the rarest animals on Dartmoor – it is a Red Data Species and only survives in a handful of woodlands on the moor – it is a slug eater – so again will be happy with the weather.