More flooding in Lancashire, Yorkshire and North Wales from a Storm with no name

It’s Boxing Day – I’ve had a lovely relaxing day doing my own thing. It is quite a contrast to what I have been following on my digital media streams regarding the floods in Lancashire, Yorkshire and North Wales. To be honest I feel pretty awful – I’m having fun,  whilst others are having a torrid time and are suffering emotionally and financially. I am several hundred miles away from the unfolding events and am powerless to help.

On Christmas Eve I was speculating over a beer with my friends that Cumbria was going to be flooded for the 4th time this month – but Cumbria (at least it has been as I am writing this late boxing Day eve) has been lucky – the forecast deluge has hit further south and affected Yorkshire, Lancashire and North Wales instead.

Boxing Day floods 1
It is very unusual to see red, amber and yellow rain warnings all on the same map

This has been a very unusual storm event – records have been broken in an exceptional fashion.

Boxing Day floods 2
This is the Environment Agency gauging data for the River Aire in Bingley – the previous highest recorded river levels have been exceeded by 100% – this is unprecedented

Boxing Day floods 4And here is a tweet from Guy Shrubsole – the climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth – every river in Lancashire has broken its previous highest level!

In 2015 the Met Office started naming storms in a similar way that the United States names hurricanes – this storm however was nameless – Storm Eva went through the UK on Christmas Eve and Storm Frank has yet to arrive – somehow odd?

Boxing Day floods 3

The scale of this storm can be seen in this Environment Agency graphic – the North and North Wales is covered in amber and red river warnings – see here for the current situation.

One of the worst places hit by flooding today was Hebden Bridge – I pick out this town simply because I have been there recently when I was visiting Gibson Mill and Hardcastle Crags with work colleagues. We all stayed in the town and it was a lovely place. Hebden Bridge was seriously flooded in 2012 and now it has happened again. These Twitter posts from Boxing Day set the context.

Boxing Day floods 5
I can’t imagine this – I’ve never suffered from flooding

Boxing Day floods 6
I’ve walking down these streets and been in these shops

These floods in Yorkshire, Lancashire and North Wales (and previously in Cumbria) are the result of unprecedented weather events but is there more we could be doing as a society other than calling for better flood defences and increased budgets?

I have written and tweeted extensively recently about land use and flooding (see here and here for example for issues around maize and here about Storm Desmond and land use). The issue of adjacent land use is also not unfamiliar to the residents of Hebden Bridge. Close by is an intensively managed grouse moor which some residents blame for their 2012 flooding problems – see here, here and here. They claim that the burning of the heather moorland makes the land less able to absorb heavy rain which then runs down the hillsides into the River Calder and then into Hebden Bridge.

The importance of the way that upstream catchments are managed is becoming more understood even in political circles.

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 00.10.57
This is potentially very good news unless the policy morphs in  a new plan to cover the Uplands with conifers  or ends up destroying some of our finest historical landscapes with trees – see the end of this blog for example.

Aside for the actualities and the politics, what about the science? Why is this weather happening? Two phenomena seem to be at play – climate change and the El Nino in the Pacific.

The modelling around climate change suggest winters here will be milder, wetter and we will see more extreme weather.

The Met Office in October said this about the El Nino effect and the UK – see here

”Most of the global drivers discussed above tend to increase the chances of westerly weather patterns during our November to January outlook period. Our numerical prediction model, being sensitive to these drivers, also predicts a higher-than-normal chance of westerly conditions. This results in an outlook for an increased chance of milder- and wetter-than-usual conditions, and a decreased chance of colder and drier conditions, for the UK. Our outlook also indicates an increase in the risk of windy or even stormy weather.”

Interesting the Met Office predictions goes on to say “Finally, there are hints that the outlook might be rather different in the late winter (Jan-Mar), with an increased risk of cold weather developing.” The last El Nino event in Britain coincided with the huge post Christmas snow falls in 2010. If I was a betting man which I am not ……








El Nino

Milder, Wetter stormier and then much colder and drier in 2016

Badgers, TB and intensive farming

Last Saturday I wrote a blog about the rise of maize growing in this country including Devon and Dartmoor and the environmental problems associated with it. I also made reference to a Soil Association paper on the subject called  ‘Runaway Maize’ – that document made reference to an anecdotal association between the incidence of TB in cattle and the growing of maize – there was no scientific reference detailing this so I didn’t mention it. However this week the University of Exeter (B Winkler and F Mathews) has published a detailed paper on the topic in a journal of the Royal Society “Environmental risk factors associated with bovine tuberculosis amongst cattle in high risk areas”. You can download the Royal Society paper here and you can read the University’s press office release here.

Highland cattle

The paper details a mathematical model which has been produced based on data from over 1300 farms (some where TB was prevalent and some where it was not). The model predicts and I quote from the paper that “The risk of bTB breakdown increased on farms with greater areas of deciduous wood, maize, marsh and rough pasture, and in herds that were larger, fed silage and were dairy units. The risk decreased on farms that had a greater percentage of hedges in boundaries, that grazed cattle on fields that had been cut for silage or hay and had greater numbers of cattle moving off the holding”.

The discussion section states “Broadly, characteristics of higher intensity production, such as larger herd size, maize production, use of silage and reduced hedgerow abundance were linked with elevated infection risk”.

“The dairy industry is currently undergoing particularly marked alterations owing to market and regulatory changes. Average dairy herd sizes rose by 36% from 1990 to 2003 in England. In the same period, the area planted with maize in South West England increased fourfold. Badgers favour maize as a food source: in the south west of England 72% of land owners report badger damage to cereal crops (oats, maize, barley and wheat). Contamination of maize by badger faeces and urine may therefore present a possible route of infection. Maize may also play a role by altering badger population sizes and their nutritional status”.

This is a very important study produced by a highly reputable research unit and published in a world class journal.  In essence the paper says that the way we manage the countryside directly impacts on the incidence of bTB and therefore by changing some of these practices we should be able to reduce outbreaks of TB in cattle.

For every 10ha of maize that is planted the risk of a TB outbreak increases by 20%. In dairy herd of over 150 animals in size they were 50% more likely to suffer a bovine TB outbreaks than herds with 50 cattle or less. The report suggests that by excluding cattle from marshland (by fencing them out) TB outbreaks would be substantially reduced – for every 10ha of marsh on a farm TB outbreaks increase by 70%. On farms with 50km of field boundaries each extra 1km of hedgerow was linked with a 37% reduction in risk.

There is much in here for us all to mull over but there is also a real message of hope. If we are prepared to heed this advice and take action there is a route forward in the battle against bTB. Many of the actions proposed would also lead to a countryside richer in wildlife. If we choose to ignore the findings or are unable to implement them for economic reasons then the incidence of TB in cattle will continue to rise. This approach offers a science based alternative to the current controversial and unproven policies being trialled to reduce TB in some parts of the south west.