Starting afresh, we once more find ourselves investigating extremes of temperature, rainfall and the resulting fires and floods around the world. This leads into a list of new topics, to be explored in the coming months.
As the New Year arrived, the first place to send up their fireworks in celebration was Auckland in New Zealand. This is their summertime, and so far it is proving to be a gentle one. But across the water in Australia, things are definitely hotting up!
Britain’s Jack Draper battled through his match in the Australian Open Tennis in high heat, above 30 degrees, to win his first 5-setter – and then threw up at the side of the court after victory! A statement later referred more to the stress than the temperature, but it was probably a bit of both. Down Under, mid-January is the hottest time of year, with extremes felt mostly in the western and central areas. In the interior of South Australia, at Oodnadatta, the temperature has been historically recorded to soar up to a staggering 50.6°C! That is the epitome of the extremity of January’s heat and as you might expect, can frequently lead to wildfires. Here is a recent notification: –
SYDNEY, Jan 14 (Reuters) – Hundreds of firefighters on Sunday battled an out-of-control bushfire near Western Australia’s capital Perth, prompting authorities to urge residents in the fire’s path to flee.
More than 25 bushfires were burning on Sunday in the vast state, with residents in the rural shires of Gingin and nearby Chittering, about 60 kms (37 miles) north of Perth, at risk from the fast-moving blaze, according to fire authorities.
By contrast, in the Northern Hemisphere we have been suffering exceptional amounts of rain, wind and named storms – like Gerrit and Henk – causing significant problems in both the UK and Europe. The small town of Windehausen, in the state of Thuringia in Germany, was one of the worst affected by the floods. With all streets underwater by Christmas Day evening, and power and sewage no longer working, residents were asked to evacuate. Local media reported that 400 of the 500 residents had chosen to leave.
After Gerrit, a Bomb Cyclone was Forecast for Ireland and the UK with a Winter Storm before the New Year
The process leading to such a rapid pressure fall is called bombogenesis* – a meteorological term when a surface cyclone rapidly intensifies, giving a central pressure drop of more than 24 mbar within 24 hours.
This is a Guardian headline, leading into a long report – A sequence of storms this autumn and winter – Babet, Ciarán, Debi, Elin, Fergus and Gerrit – have turned Britain into “a sopping wet sponge”. Then came Storm Henk; its intense rainfall had nowhere to go except to pour into our rivers, which burst their banks spectacularly across the country. More than 1,000 homes in England were flooded and some villages totally cut off, with Nottinghamshire, Shropshire, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire worst affected.’
An explanation can be found in figures from the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, which last week revealed that the period between July and December in 2023 was the wettest on record for the UK. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2024/jan/06/warmer-winters-and-more-flooding-will-be-the-norm-in-the-uk-scientists-warn
How well is the UK responding to this situation? Well strangely, it is better than some other countries because it has a scheme of Re-Insurance, called https://www.floodre.co.uk. This offers help to householders, in such circumstances, along with practical suggestions on how to protect the premises. https://www.floodre.co.uk/be-flood-smart/. There is however, a significant drawback; it will cease to operate in 2030.
Flood Re helps households at the highest risk of flooding. We also provide information about taking action to reduce flood risk. Flood Re will run for 25 years, at which point insurers should be offering policies based on actual risk to property.
CLOSE TO MEADOW BARNS
A less erudite source than the UK Hydrology is our own local Facebook page, called Luxulyan Valley Stories. A lady posted there, to say that her husband records rainfall every day, and he says we have had DOUBLE the normal annual rainfall in 2023. I can certainly confirm this has been an exceptionally dark, dank time because I have just submitted my solar panel readings and received much less £s than usual for a quarter.
Out of the Facebook post came a conversation, which I can no longer locate, about the fact that our Colliford reservoir is only just achieving 70% capacity, despite the deluge. How can it not be at 100%?
I have never been able to understand the cause of this reservoir being so low, but then finally I was enlightened at a New Year party! An insider informed me that 30% of the reservoir water is always syphoned off and used to dilute contaminants, to just below the legal limit, so it can be released into the sea. I cannot say if this is true, or not, but it sounds convincing to me. And if so, it is Disgraceful!
I decided to take a look on the EA website to see if there are any hints to explain what the water could be used for. At this link you will find a set of specific regulations, any or all of which could be involved: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/water-companies-water-treatment-works-discharge-limits-for-environmental-permits/water-companies-water-treatment-works-discharge-limits-for-environmental-permits
EA permit conditions are applied to limit the impact of relevant substances, such as:
- suspended solids – including granulated activated carbon (GAC) fines
They may apply permit limits for other substances to reflect changes in process, technology or site-specific issues. For example, to protect surface waters designated as nitrate-sensitive areas or groundwater within Safeguard Zones, we may use site-specific nitrate and chloride standards to control effluent from nitrate removal plants.
Those of us of a certain vintage may clearly recall the spill of aluminium in the SW Water supply at Camelford, which had a terrible affect on public health. Bad news as it is, I prefer Colliford water to be used to keep all these levels below limits, if that is the only way.
The Camelford water pollution incident involved the accidental contamination of the drinking water supply to the town of Camelford, Cornwall, in July 1988. Twenty tonnes of aluminium sulphate was inadvertently added to the water supply, raising the concentration to 3,000 times the admissible level.
After the brief distraction of Colliford, my main attention immediately after New Year was the impact of Par River flooding, of an area close to the village of Luxulyan. 3 weeks ago, water levels were inches below the threshold of houses, reminding all residents of the time when a disaster of flooding occurred in 2010. A little further down the river was a second area, with the banks being washed completely away and thus over-spilling water onto the main footpath, called the Saints Way.
Unless you zoom in, it is not possible to see the detail in the second picture, but in the centre is a break in the banks next to an old weir, which we believe has been made by Cornwall Council in an attempt to create a somewhat amateur, temporary fish-pass. There is indeed a type of fish pass called a Rock Ramp (see below), but also some that are more compact and might meet the requirements. A company called Fishtek has been commissioned to provide a report, so we will learn, at a meeting next week, why they promote other ideas than this one. It is one of the topics to explore in the coming months.
The Meadow Barns response to this situation, working with my colleagues Bob and David, was to prepare and print lots of information, maps and plans, plus photos and films. Most of this was posted on both our Facebook page, and the one for Luxulyan Community, if you are interested. https://www.facebook.com/groups/960056271231911
In addition to our posted info, also now see a contribution by local water statistician, Lisa White:-
It feels like its been a really wet winter so far, and the data is starting to suggest that it is actually exceptionally wet. The national water resources hydrology team’s monthly situation report for December 2023 shows that over 3/4 of catchments recorded “exceptionally high” (top 5%) rainfall over Oct, Nov and Dec. For England as a whole, the 3 and 6 month cumulative rainfall to the end of December is the third highest since records started in 1871 and the wettest since 2000. However within that, 13 catchments have had their wettest 3 and 6 months on record (since 1871). 7 catchments have had their wettest 12 months on record. And all these stats don’t even include Storm Henk! For full report, see here: https://lnkd.in/gntPfDjh
Or view a related video, made in the USA by the company Lisa works for:- https://optimatics.com/#iLightbox[gallery_image_1]/0
Lisa was one of a number of contributors. To our surprise, the response on this topic was so strong that we ended up booking a hall and running an open meeting, to hear stories of the past and ideas for the future. In a report of the session, I have likened the experience to lifting a lid off a pressure cooker! Frustration at the behaviour of statutory bodies, like the Environment Agency, plus SW Water and the charitable organisations that are supposed to help (West Country Rivers Trust, Cornwall Wildlife Trust) was bubbling out of almost every speaker and as Chair, it was hard to bring matters to a close. And not easy to think what should happen next.
After a few days of pondering we came up with a plan, & it will be to deliver more of the same! A series of monthly open information events to outline 2 very different strategies for future management:-
- Let Nature Loose – this would remove the historic straight channels of our leat system, replacing with meandering shallow rivulets, that fill with fallen tree branches and slow the flow. Beavers could add to this process. Discover examples at a number of National Trust sites, as described here https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/our-cause/nature-climate/nature-conservation/riverlands-how-we-keep-our-rivers-flowing
I will be writing about these in greater detail soon and hope to book a speaker who can tell us more in March.
- Look after the Leats – the opposite idea is to restore those straight channels to their previous depth, taking out tons of silt and using all of the network, with new and intelligent or ‘smart tech’ sluices, to manage fluctuations. This might also involve generation of hydro power. The proposed first date for this topic is Thursday evening, 29th February and further details will follow as soon as they are finalised.
ONE MORE RIVER
If you followed the blog in 2023 you will not have missed the De-Salination debate. Should the public water supply in the Fowey River catchment be enhanced by treated sea water from the coast? The New Year brought us another public session in the village of Tywardreath, with very little new coming out of it. If you want to know the fullest information, which continues to emphasise the need for protecting sea grass and maerle, you could contact Par Desalination Information group using email@example.com and ask for a copy of their notes.
Still with River Fowey, a couple of nights ago I joined about a dozen people, brought together by Lostwithiel Environmental Action Forum (LEAF), to meet with Kirsty Davies of Surfers Against Sewage charity. She came to give initial advice on how we might prepare and submit an application to register the area shown above, by the old bridge, as a designated public bathing spot. This is not only to benefit the relatively low numbers of wild swimmers but also to achieve the spin-off, of regularly tested and higher quality of water for all.
There was discussion also of another wild swimming site at 2nd Island, within the same application or separately, but this would seem to be an overload of work. There will be a great deal to take care of in the time frame, which has a deadline of October 31st for submission.
Kirsty told us lots about other areas, including of course the River Ilkley in Yorkshire, which was first in the UK to succeed.
On 10 August 2020 an 8 week public consultation was launched which closed on 2 October 2020. The bathing water site (known as “Wharfe at Cromwheel, Ilkley”) was designated on 22 December 2020. It is the first designated river bathing water site in England.7 Jan 2022
Kirsty described how DEFRA is in charge of the assessment process and seemingly can make swift changes to their requirements, so as to make adherence to the regulations much more difficult. But the government gives out mixed messages. It ended up very positive about Ilkley and seem proud to tell the story:-
The new status means that the Environment Agency will regularly take samples from the river to assess whether action is needed to cut bacteria levels, helping to ensure the water is cleaner and safer for swimmers, and improve the Wharfe’s water quality. Monitoring will begin from May 2021.
Today’s announcement comes as Yorkshire Water confirmed a new partnership to improve water quality in the River Wharfe, bringing together the Environment Agency, Bradford Council, National Farmers Union (NFU), Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and landowners upstream of Ilkley.
It has also set out plans to reduce storm overflow discharges into the river by 20%, increasing the use of smart tech to predict and prevent pollution incidents.
This is without doubt the kind of progress we need in all rivers. So why was Calstock on the Tamar not able to succeed when they applied last year? The report below gives only the bare fact, that its application failed, and no reasons. It also tells that the Tamar is the 7th most polluted river in the country, which I find fairly astonishing. Paperwork says it is down to sewage contamination, but perhaps as a result of mine contaminants also? I would like to know more, particularly as I now have a personal reason for semi-regular trips to that very beautiful spot. This was January 10th on a chilly afternoon visit.
DEFRA STATED the Calstock application ‘has not met the criteria set out in the regulations and will not be taken forward for bathing water designation’.
This year our spring Half Term break is very early, which enables us to catch and celebrate 2 different significant dates – On Saturday 10th February, Chinese New Year and on Wednesday 14th, Valentine’s Day.
From the very first time that plans for Climate Hope activities in a Half Term came into my head, I felt sure that Autumn should be based on topics in the UK, especially harvest. But February and May would need to be looking to the Far East and the Far West. I have delivered Chinese music, dance and cooking activities many times in my teaching career, so it was an obvious choice to create workshops and a Ceremony in this, the Year of the Wood Dragon!
I am delighted to have support from the city of Truro, their Bid and Pydar Development staff, plus a team of volunteers from East Cornwall working alongside others from Mid Cornwall Climate and Eco Hub. And the icing on the cake will be Jason Thomas Dance Company, performing a newly-devised Ribbon Dance.
I will report next time on a controversial Chinese performing arts group, which we are studying, on our recipes and how they link with growing rice in times of climate change. And much more!
There is one date in advance of Half Term, next Saturday 27th, for making and marching a ‘Horde’ of Dragons! Yes that is the correct collective noun. I won’t write more, because the info is here, in the flyers.
Whilst Chinese New Year will be big, bold, brash and colourful the opposite is true for our Valentine’s Walk. Here I am supported by one of our readers, Heimke Moll, who has all the extra skills and experience I feel will make this a very special opportunity. She runs Kind Hands 4 All, Nature Therapy; find out more at this site – https://www.heimke-moll.co.uk
In both cases, I am praying for dry sunny days. But if another spell of rain comes in we will adapt. Dragons under umbrellas if we must!