Storm Imogen – not looking good

Storm Imogen arrives today with a Yellow warning of rain and an Amber one for wind. It has reminded me of February 2014.

Amber Feb 2016

Dawlish storm 14 1
Stormy seas at Dawlish Warren – Feb 2014

Dawlish storm 14 2
The sand dunes took a battering – Feb 2014

Dawlish storm 14 3
The railway line at Dawlish Feb 2014

Dawlish storm 14 4
Dawlish railway line Feb 2014

That storm was a southerly – Imogen is more south westerly – fingers crossed for everyone and everywhere today

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.


Branscombe beach in search of the scaly cricket

I went down to the National Trust’s Branscombe beach yesterday to start the process of surveying for one of the rarest animals in the UK – the scaly cricket (in my capacity as the voluntary county recorder for orthoptera i.e. grasshoppers and crickets etc). Last winter the beach was hit by a huge storm which completely reprofiled the shingle banks on the beach and scoured out parts of the cliff. The survey I set up yesterday is an attempt to discover how the scaly cricket is faring. I set 24 pitfall traps along different parts of the beach and each was baited with a bit of Cornish pastry! This is a repeat of a survey I conducted a few years ago – see here and here.

Pitfall traps are quite simple – a small plastic cup sunk into the shingle – the idea being that a cricket wanders along and falls in – it then has some pasty to eat to keep it sustained. I will be returning to the beach at Branscombe with some colleagues from the National Trust and Natural England this evening to check the traps and see if we have caught any crickets  –  please note – any crickets that are caught will be returned to the beach unharmed!

PitfallOne of the pitfall traps baited with a bit of pasty

BeachBranscombe shingle beach – the home of scaly cricket

ChaletsThe storm damage at Branscombe is still very evident

The under cliffs at Branscombe are also nationally renowned as a fabulous place for a host of other rare animals and plants and are well worth exploring in their own right via the network of paths through and above the cliffs.

I managed to find and photograph a couple of the special species there.

Rufous grasshopper 4This is the rufous grasshopper – note the swollen ends to the antennae which then have a white tip along with the red on the abdomen and legs

Rufous grasshopper 3They also have characteristic markings on the top of the head (the pronotum)

RG mapHere is the distribution map of the rufous grasshopper via the National Biodiversity Network

Grey bush cricketThis animal is the grey bush cricket which can be found along the coasts of southern Britain – again a pretty uncommon species

S0 – back to Branscombe this evening and an update on our findings tomorrow.


The power of the wind

A couple of weeks have passed since the big south west storms and we have managed to clear up everything that is either on a public road or a public path but today I revisited  this area in Fingle Woods which is well off the beaten track to take a few photographs. Dave Rickwood, Devon Site Manager for the Woodland Trust and I  discovered and looked at this area of ‘wind blow’ last week .

It would have been terrifying to have been in the woods during this storm. I reckon 50-100 mature conifers have been blown over in an area of around an acre.

Fingle fallen tree 1A couple of conifers blown out of the ground  – root plates showing

Fingle fallen tree 2This tree has simply snapped off

Fingle fallen tree 3The power of the wind must have been frightening – these are big trees snapped of 10-15′ above the ground

FingleIts all calm now ……

The  National Trust and the Woodland Trust have recently jointly bought Fingle Woods and we will be managing them in partnership for the benefit of the public and the wildlife.

Rangers clear up after the storms

Its official  – we have had the wettest run of weather  for 250 years. This has been the top item on the national news for weeks. The storms and heavy rain has impacted on our Ranger team in a pretty dramatic way. Across the Dartmoor portfolio we have lost approaching 100 trees, seen river banks eroded and paths washed away. All of this needs clearing up and making safe on top of the day to day work that the Rangers had been planning to do anyway.

Plymbridge tree 1Here is a tree across the road at Plymbridge

Plymbridge tree 2Such large trees take quite a while to clear and need some specialist kit!

Lydford treeA tree down on the railway path at Lydford Gorge

Parke weir 2The River Bovey at Parke has been out its banks for week now near the weir causing a lot of erosion

Plym Bridge CanalThe canal track at Plymbridge has overtopped

Plym Bridge camal holeCausing damage to the surface.

In summary – at Parke we have lost 21 trees, seen the part of the riverside walk washed away and seen the Bovey cutting across the meander near to the weir.

At Lydford – we have seen numerous trees down, the bridge at Pixie Glen has been damaged and various hand rails have been damaged. As a result we have had to close the Gorge to visitors on a number of occasions.

In the Teign Valley 15 trees have come down near the paths and 6 of these were large oaks. There has been some serious erosion along the river banks and a path has been washed out.

Hembury and Holne Woods have seen a few trees down but appears to have fared pretty well.

At Plymbridge over 20 tree have fallen, four onto roads and there has been considerable erosion along the canal.

A big thank you from me to our Rangers for clearing all this up and making our places safe for the public.

Cartoons from the floods

Without doubt the recent floods have been terrible and a huge personal tragedy for many people – the political satirists have captured the moment well though.




ea cartoon

private eye cartoon

A couple of tweets from  fake Owen Paterson account:

‘I will now engage local experts re the floods issue.Have managed to secure Ratty and Moles’ services but have heard nothing back from Badger’

‘I have authorised a deployment of 500 beavers.These will not only repair flood defences but will be housed in recently vacated badger setts’

I hope that this type of satire will ensure we soon end up dealing with causes and not just effects.

The River Clyst – brown revisited

Following on from my post last week concerning the runoff and flooding at Plymbridge I have been doing a bit of digging and was recently pointed in the direction of the following scientific paper:-

Soil structural degradation in SW England and its impact on surface-water runoff generation by R . C. Palmer and R. P. Smith of Exeter University in the journal, Soil Use and Management Volume 29, Issue 4, pages 567–575, December 2013.

The abstract states:-

“Field investigations between 2002 and 2011 identified soil structural degradation to be widespread in SW England with 38% of the 3243 surveyed sites having sufficiently degraded soil structure to produce observable features of enhanced surface-water runoff within the landscape. Soil under arable crops often had high or severe levels of structural degradation. Late-harvested crops such as maize had the most damaged soil where 75% of sites were found to have degraded structure generating enhanced surface-water runoff. Soil erosion in these crops was found at over one in five sites. A tendency for the establishment of winter cereals in late autumn in the South West also often resulted in damaged soil where degraded structure and enhanced surface-water runoff were found in three of every five cereal fields. Remedial actions to improve soil structure are either not being undertaken or are being unsuccessfully used. Brown Sands, Brown Earths and loamy Stagnogley Soils were the most frequently damaged soils. The intensive use of well-drained, high quality sandy and coarse loamy soils has led to soil structural damage resulting in enhanced surface-water runoff from fields that should naturally absorb winter rain. Surface water pollution, localized flooding and reduced winter recharge rates to aquifers result from this damage. Chalk and limestone landscapes on the other hand show little evidence of serious soil structural degradation and <20% of fields in these landscapes generate enhanced runoff.”

The following few pictures were taken on Saturday of the River Clyst just outside Exeter at Clyst St Mary.
There are certainly a lot of autumn sown winter cereals in this catchment.
Clyst 1River looking north

Clyst 2The red soils of Devon off to the sea!

Clyst 3The Clyst looking south

Plymbridge floods turn brown

I drove from Exeter down to Plymbridge this morning for a meeting. Possibly the worst journey in the hardest rain I’ve been through so far this year.

On the road down to Miner’s Cottage at Plymbridge I was met with this.

Plym flood1

A great stream of muddy water pouring out of the bank.

Further down  at the Miner’s Cottage turn the water was flowing well!

Plym Flood2

Plym Flood 3Whilst on one hand the sight is impressive on the other it is depressing.

Note how brown the water is – the rain has hit bare, unvegetated fields and washed straight off taking a goodly amount of the soil with it. Yes – without doubt this was a heavy deluge this morning but the flooding down this road would not have been so bad and so quick if the fields has been vegetated and not bare and open to immediate erosion.

This is a major area we all need to focus on in the coming months and years. We can’t stop these storms especially now that we have let the ‘climate change genie’ out of the bottle but the way we manage our catchments is within our control.

All agricultural land should have a Soil Protection Plan – it is a prerequisite for landowners to receive the Single Farm Payment. Leaving fields throughout the winter bare and devoid of cover in sensitive catchments which are prone to flooding doesn’t seem a good way to implement a Soil Protection Plan!


Small spotted catsharks dead on Branscombe beach

On Sunday I went for a walk along the beach at Branscombe and found 6 dead dogfish lying on the shingle. I wasn’t really looking and didn’t walk along the shore line all the way so I wouldn’t be surprised if there were dozens.

The dogfish in question is a small spotted catshark.

dogfish 1


This is a common species along the south coast. However it is nocturnal and during the day it sleeps on the sea floor. I guess they all got caught out by Hercules 2 and were washed ashore and died.

dogfish 2


This specimen was in almost perfect conditions but some I found we very mangled.