Pre – Virus, Ditches And Nightlights Edition.

In some places such as Southend and Weston Supermare the tide goes out for a huge distance. In this age of precast modular building systems why are we not able to slam in a housing estate or two in these situations before the sea comes back in to swamp the residents? Stupid idea? No more so than continuing to build thousands of properties on the flood plains of rivers and being surprised to find the water rising in the living room every winter.

There was a time when we when we had a more sensible attitude to the inevitable and even managed it to our advantage yet who today has even heard of Lammas land, water meadows, drownwers, brooksmen or lengthsmen? These were all systems and their attendant expert managers now long gone from our landscape. At least that is to say those with the knowledge to maintain them are gone, the systems will reassert themselves come hell or high water, usually the latter, with every period of protracted rainfall.

One of our more recently arrived unworldies was amazed, only the other day, to see the fields around Penshurst (a name eluding to swans – now there’s a clue) covered in floodwater. Yet even back to my earliest memories over sixty years ago these fields have flooded in every winter of heavy rainfall.

These and those like them across the country were once held in high esteem. The drowners who attended them were incredibly skilled in managing the water levels, using sluices, ditches and bunds. With little more than a few pegs and a spade they were able to handle the winter floods to within half an inch, no laser levels then, and ensure an even shallow flood to fertilise the fields with the alluvial silt it deposited and warm the whole to provide the perfect environment for early cropping once it subsided in the spring.

Flooding has been a fact of life in Britain since time immemorial. Not always welcome but understood and generally accepted. Much of the county of Somerset was once managed on that basis and derives its name from the fact that it flooded in winter and was in the main only habitable in the summer, hence ‘summer settlement’.

For me one of the main insanities in our current situation is the way in which the nationwide ditch system has been allowed to fall into disrepair, has been put into pipes , or actively filled in. These extensive systems were once considered essential and held a vast head of water in times of heavy rainfall which slowed its release into our well dredged rivers to ultimately be harmlessly released back to the sea. Not only this but they were a haven for wildlife.

Until recent years our local system supported not only frogs, newts, dragonflies and water beetles etc. but a plethora of water loving plants such as water plantain, celery – leafed buttercup and purple loosestrife. In the main these are sadly becoming little more than a distant memory. Even back in the land of my origins, around Mitcham in South London, a ditch system surrounded the common and ran parallel to the old railway. These, likewise, supported a huge variety of flora and fauna. All sadly lost now.

Few remain locally, they have been filled in to provide car parking or have become blocked with neglect. Some have been replaced with pipes but this is a hugely inferior system. In days of yore the lengthsman would roam his parish, armed only with billhook, crome (a type of long tyned rake), and shovel. Any blockage would be obvious and could instantly be cleared in seconds. Not so with a pipe. First they block more easily and this must then be located, then it must be cleared with rods or other means. If this fails major excavation is the only answer.

The fields beyond my back fence were originally criss-crossed with ditches, until a tidy minded new owner replaced them with a piped solution at considerable expense. Another owner later built a small bower and unbeknown to myself and neighbours drove a corner post through our rainwater drainage system which took a long while and a considerable amount of money to identify before being rectified with a five foot length of land drain. Why, Oh why, are newcomers so reluctant to look to the history of the place or talk to us old lags? It could save a great deal of grief for all concerned and, more than likely, an awful lot of dosh!

The current owner, who has permission for an additional dwelling beyond my fence, and lets not forget that every new road, drive, or building in our countryside is an area of lost drainage, was last seen pumping flood water down a drain in my lane. We have had harsh words in the past but I believe he reads this blog and if he wishes to knock on my door I feel it is time to bury the hatchet. I have aerial photos and drainage diagrams of the site and am happy to help try and solve his dilemma if invited.

The first of March came in, uncharacteristically like a lamb, with a lovely sunny, if chilly, day to cheer us up after a succession of storms had swept across The Atlantic to give us a battering that seemed like it might never end. The downside was that, like a hatch of mayflies, the least flash of sunlight brought forth thousands of accursed cyclists to once more blight our lanes like a plague of fetid locusts. One in particular was shouting something at the top of his voice, and then started flapping one arm at a passing car, as if trying to take off. I can only assume that his razor sharp saddle had become embedded up his arse and was pressing on his brain, causing some form of premature dementia or mad cow disease. Very sad.

It puzzles me that throughout the trials and tribulations of this winter, aside of trampling a Bristol park into a replica of a far eastern paddy-field, Gertrude Bumbag and her warmist cronies have remained relatively silent. Why? With their case made for them, don’t Extinction Rebellion market their cause to us unconvinced doubters by wearing suitably emblazoned hi-viz waistcoats while picking up litter or helping those poor souls afflicted by the rising waters instead of disrupting commuters. Abandoning some twenty tons of trash in Trafalgar Square is not the answer.

Indeed it is truly amazing just how quickly our climate can change (A virus can shut down the world even faster), sliding into another ice age in the seventies, now we’re dying of heat, which according to the new Environment Secretary George Eustice is causing increased flooding. Only eight years ago his predecessor Caroline Spelman was warning The National Union of Farmers to prepare for drought becoming the norm and we were advised to plant our gardens with cacti, succulents and other desert adapted plants. Strange world.

Climate aside I’ve never seen our lanes in such a state. It seems that drivers are no longer able to keep to the confines of the metalled surface while flinging litter in all directions as they hurtle by at ludicrous speed. Our verges have been obliterated this winter and may never recover. I’ve taken to carrying a litter picker when out walking and currently average around half a bin-sack for every mile, week in week out, much of which is made up of energy drinks tins, such as our ‘oh so green’ friends the cycling fraternity are keen on, although I’m sure they can’t be to blame!

I was out in the back garden at the end of February, taking part in the CPRE Campaign For Dark Skies annual survey. We used to enjoy superb inky black skies but recent results indicate we now suffer severe light pollution. In the main this is caused here by every nervous newcomer erecting exterior lighting to deter the thousands of burglars, rapists, and other felons who emerge as soon as the sun sets. You can always spot a townie, they’re the ones who take a torch when walking up the pub at night, much fearful of the bogeyman hiding in the hedge on the way home. What no one seems to appreciate is that in a pitch black environment burglars are unable to see what they are doing either, unless they carry a torch, in which case they stick out like a sore thumb, whereas, in a well lit environment they can go about their business unhindered.

The star count focusses on those visible within the Orion rectangle defined by the four prominent corner stars. The top left of these is Betelgeuse, which is about to become a supernova (anytime in the next 1,000,000 years). That’s like tomorrow in astronomical terms, however, this star has become suddenly, and noticeably, dimmer in the last few weeks which may mean it is collapsing in on itself and is indeed about to blow. Actually by the time we see anything it will have happened millions of years ago but the light has only just reached us. We will not be affected but the result should be spectacular.

Were it not for supernovas we and much else could not exist, as the heavier elements of which we are composed can only form within them. That we have arrived can be in little doubt. Neither can there be any doubt that we are the dominant species, leaving little habitat for anything else. It is quite sobering to note that while there are now over 7,700,000,000 of us on this planet our closest relative, the chimpanzee, numbers less than 300,000. The other great apes are even more scarce. Never fear, Coronavirus AKA Covid 19 is continuing to spread with alarming speed and may well cull a good few of us. Indeed, in the parlance of our inarticulate youth, it appears to have gone viral. No you dumb shits it actually is viral!

If any good can come out of this it may be an instant awakening to just how fragile our whole way of life really is. I think perhaps it is the sudden global impact that has caught us unawares rather than any campaign to postpone some prophetic disaster a hundred years down the road. This is now and you may be dead by the end of the week. Whether its felling the rain forest in Brazil or chomping on bats in Wuhan we must mend our ways right now or perish.

I wrote a few years back about the lack of earthworms in my veggie plot. Now far greater minds than mine have caught on an tell us that these humble critters have reduced in number by a third due to artificial fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and all the other unnatural filth that we are so keen to use to boost production and hence profit.

The current outbreak of a fairly mild virus has exposed just how fragile modern society has become and likewise humanity’s tenure of this, our one and only home planet. Without earthworms there will be no more fertile soil. Its decay will release untold amounts of CO2 and methane into our atmosphere and food production will plummet close to zero. This will make any pathogen seem insignificant and no amount of brawling in the local supermarket over bog rolls will save us.

Finally, on a celestial theme, as we are encouraged toward ever more reliance on electricity, has anyone considered the implications of a massive solar flare. Not only could this damage the magnetosphere, which defends our atmosphere from the solar wind that would otherwise blast it into outer space, but it would also wipe out all of our electronic systems. Everything, power, communications, the lot!

Can’t happen? On March 12th 1989 Quebec, Canada was struck by a modest solar flare and was effectively shut down for 12 hours. It would take a truly massive one to close down the entire planet but there is no doubt that it could happen at any time and has happened before, in a split second, making Coronavirus look like a leisurely walk in the park.

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