The last post I had written came after storms Abigail, Barney, Clodagh and Desmond had wreaked havoc. We have since been visited by Eva and Frank is currently knocking on my windows.
Where Eva left with a whimper, Frank came in roaring. There is currently a lull in the extremity of the weather but winds are due to strengthen shortly. Along with the winds the storm has delivered large amounts of rainfall and conditions have created untold misery for countless of homes and families in some areas. Others like the Shannon region that were already dealing with the horrors of flooded homes have had their troubles compounded.
Increasing frequency of severe storm events could mean that what was once coined the ‘storm of the century’ could be soon become known as ‘the storm of the decade’ or perhaps even more frequent than that. If management attitudes remain as they are then Ireland will experience more flooding, more destroyed homes and more hardship and misery for those touched by this type of tragedy.
With trends indicating that the frequency of such events is on the increase we really must address how we approach flood alleviation in this country. The removal of upland forestry and bog to be replaced by pasture sees huge amounts of rainfall wash straight into the rivers and be carried downstream. Pouring of concrete in the lower reaches in the form of flood defence just pushes the deluge further down again resulting in coastal flooding. Pushing the problem further downstream has not worked traditionally.
A piece that I looked at recently could be applied to fit perfectly to the Irish example with regard to how we have contributed to our own problems;
“The story begins with a group of visionary farmers at Pontbren, in the headwaters of Britain’s longest river, the Severn. In the 1990s they realised that the usual hill-farming strategy – loading the land with more and bigger sheep, grubbing up the trees and hedges, digging more drains – wasn’t working. It made no economic sense, the animals had nowhere to shelter, and the farmers were breaking their backs to wreck their own land.
So they devised something beautiful. They began planting shelter belts of trees along the contours. They stopped draining the wettest ground and built ponds to catch the water instead. They cut and chipped some of the wood they grew to make bedding for their animals, which meant that they no longer spent a fortune buying straw. Then they used the composted bedding, in a perfect closed loop, to cultivate more trees.
One day a government consultant was walking over their fields during a rainstorm. He noticed something that fascinated him. The water flashing off the land suddenly disappeared when it reached the belts of trees the farmers had planted. This prompted a major research programme, which produced the following astonishing results: water sinks into the soil under trees at 67 times the rate at which it sinks into the soil under grass. The roots of the trees provide channels down which the water flows, deep into the ground.”
A case study from the UK but equally applicable here. Further research has been conducted and it has shown that by reforesting just 5% of the upper catchment land the peak flows in a flood event will be reduced by 29%, a figure which should make startling sense to anybody that reads it; the inexpensive step of replanting trees along the upper catchment will create huge benefits for flood stricken communities. Reforestation will be far more effective and cost effective than concrete construction with the added bonus of creating habitat for increased biodiversity in upper catchments.
In Ireland we also have large tracts of bog land that has been drained for commercial interest. Flooding these bogs and restoring them to wetland status will go a very long way to alleviating flooding pressure along the Shannon particularly. One TD from the Roscommon/South Leitrim area has had the foresight and vision to call for the restoration of the bog to allow them to return the ecosystem service they once provided; storage of huge amounts of water as a natural reservoir. Instead, the bogs are still being pumped to keep them dry for commercial interest as people fight to keep that very water from destroying their homes. Only in Ireland!
With the damage that has been inflicted upon thousands across the country one would think that a concerted effort should be made to alleviate the pressure on local communities up and down the country. Thoughtful solutions that could work in harmony with the environment, be introduced relatively inexpensively and deliver solid results should be the top priority. One is not filled with hope when we look to other examples of Irish environment management – the recent decision to increase hedgerow cutting season and the associated risks to nesting birds, for example.
Please look to other examples in the UK and further afield that have worked and do the right thing.