what goes inside a beaver pond?

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England (like everywhere) is experiencing increasing floods, due partly to climate change and coastal erosion, but also as trees are chopped down (they soak up water from rainfalls). Flooding does not just cause rivers to burst their banks, but can render homes inhabitable and kill humans, pets and wildlife. Insurance premiums rocket (or are not longer offered). We can’t stop natural floods, but there is lot that can be done to help prevent flooding, and better ideas to deal with floods when they happen.

Floods are now the most common cause of natural disaster on earth. Due to a combination of freak weather, higher tides and urban development (ie. chopping down rain-absorbing trees), most ‘natural disasters’ involve floods. In the US, 90% of all counties have experienced floods. If you’ve ever been knocked down by a wave at the beach, you’ll know the huge power of water which can sweep away people, pets, wildlife, houses, cars and anything in its wake. This is because water has 1000 times the density of air. Just 1 inch of water flooding into a home can destroy it.

The problems don’t stop there. Flooding can wreak havoc on electrics (nothing can be fixed until things dry up). The massive cost of retrofitting homes that have been flooded is immense. You may no longer have flooding covered on home insurance. And if you live in a prone area, the same thing could happen all over again. Councils have to pay to put people up in temporary accommodation, and homes go mouldy from damp. Flooded water can carry dangerous bacteria, and yet governments are more concerned with lowering taxes for rich businesses and having a go at immigrants, rather than dealing with one of our most serious and deadly issues.

what are floods, and how do they happen?

Floods happen when heavy rain (or melting snow) does not ‘do what it should’ by seeping into the ground and flowing out to rivers and seas. Instead, rivers burst their banks and soil becomes too wet to cope with rain. By the seaside,  concrete walls often don’t cope with floods and flash-floods (caused by heavy rain in a few hours) is more common, with freak temperatures caused by climate change. Combine this with chopping down trees to build homes (when they could be built on wasteland) and you have disasters waiting to happen.

how to prepare & cope with floods

Check weather warnings at the Met Office, so you know if a flood is imminent near where you live (or listen to radio/TV weather forecasts), particularly if you live near inland water or coasts. Keep emergency contact numbers to hand and create a simple evacuation plan (and have a box of tinned food, bottled water, blankets and pet crates to hand).

If caught in a flood, move to the highest place you can find (you’ll likely get knocked off your feet if walking through moving flood water). Never touch electrics and only return to homes, once given the go-ahead (drinking water, washing hands, cooking or brushing teeth could make you sick). In the USA, people even have to check homes for snakes, which can get washed into homes during floods.

has England experienced major floods?

Yes, and not just recently. In recent years, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was heckled when he turned up (3 weeks after a flood) when he had just enjoyed a half-term break at a luxury government mansion in Kent. Meanwhile, Yorkshire had suffered due to lack of investment in flood defences. When he tried to talk to a local resident, the no-nonsense Yorkshireman replied ”Do your f***ing job’.

Floods in the last 100 years have included:

1928 – 14 people died (and 14,000 people were made homeless) when a flood  (caused by heavy snowfall thawing in the Cotswolds and moving along the Thames) affected central London. People literally swam for their lives. The result was the Thames Flood Barrier (only completed in 1984).

1952 – The north Devon village of Lynmouth was flooded (34 people died) due to heavy rain on Exmoor that poured into the village, destroying 100 homes. One resident said he saw a row of cottages ‘fold up like a pack of cards’ and sweep away. The entire village more or less had to be built again.

1968 – Many south east counties were flooded due to heavy rain in ‘the great flood’ that killed 8 people and flooded 3000 homes. 150 passengers were trapped on a train for 12 hours, and most of the London borough of Lewisham was underwater (the mayor owned a boat and was able to personally evacuate many residents).

2004 – The Cornish village of Boscastle had 2 rivers burst their banks due to heavy rain, causing around one billion litres of water to enter the area, though miraculously no people (or pets) died though likely wildlife did (and many people lost homes, businesses and cars). People were finding uprooted trees in their garden and the church was swamped by water and mud. And the village suffered massive tourism loss (the main source of income in Cornwall).

2007 – this extremely wet year caused floods that killed 13 people and millions of others were hit by power and water cuts. The Gloucestershire town of Tewkesbury became cut off, due to being surrounded by water.

inventions that are better than sand bags

Although sand bags can help during floods, Floodsax claim to be better.  These can be kept to hand, then inflate in 5 minutes when filled with water. The semi-porous inner lining contains a gel that absorbs water to become taut, and moulds into doors to keep water out and prevent damage.

ClimaGuard is a protective system to place over your car, furniture or even golf clubs, to prevent damage from floods or any freak weather. Easy to set up by one person, you can use the Anchor Straps to secure a vehicle, to stop it floating away.

Water-Gate Anti-Flood Barrier is used worldwide as a quick replacement for burst banks. Powered by water pressure, it requires little time to set up, lasts 20 years and needs no tools or electricity to offer temporary protection in minutes. Just unroll, unfold the front flap to see the ballast, and that’s it (speed or direction of water does not matter).

how protecting nature helps prevent floods

5 million homes in England are now at risk from flooding, and chopping down trees is making things worse. Restoring our woodlands, hedgerows and wetlands all help to prevent flooding, as does not buying peat (this is not just home to endangered wildlife but also creates ‘uneven land’ that soaks up rainfall). A lot of peat bogs are flattened for the pheasant-shooting industry.

The other way to stop flooding is to make use of beavers! Gloucestershire’s Wildlife Trust has created ‘leaky dams’ that force water to pass through slowly. But beavers do this better! These ‘river engineers’ have teeth so strong, they can snap a tree trunk in a couple of bites, and gnaw through a whole trunk in less than an hour! They love making dams to create safe access to their lodges, and the result is natural dams, which slow water and prevent floods. Previously hunted almost to extinction, beavers are now making a thriving comeback.

When beavers were released into a river in Devon, they reduced flood flow by up to 60%, even in very wet weather. Paradoxically, they also help to prevent droughts (and improve water quality). In just 6 years, the UK government spent £2.6 million on flood defences, yet beavers can kind of do the same – for free!

plant bioswales along our pavements

In the US cities of Portland, Seattle and Washington DC (the first two get as much rain as us), a simple idea is used that we could emulate. As mentioned above, the more vegetation we have, the more rain can soak into it. So their pavements have ‘bioswales’ which replace plain grass verges. Pet-safe plants are used so rain soaks into them. This filtered water goes down drains and helps to prevent pavements, drains and roads flooding.

Bioswales only work with correct slopes, to avoid runoff pools and erosion. They also don’t work well for high-clay soils. But when they do work, they are a great solution. In Portland, even the indie-owned supermarket plants bioswales to help.

how The Netherlands deals with floods

Due to the very flat land (and a North Sea coast frequently battered by storms), town planners in The Netherlands are masters at preventing floods. Serious efforts were made to do something in 1953, when a flood that covered almost 10% of farmland resulted in around 2000 people losing their lives. Their methods of shortening coastlines and draining low-lying areas (and creating lakes and freshwater irrigation systems) are now used worldwide.

how to help prevent worldwide tsunamis

Tsunamis start as small waves and end up creating massive waves that remove sand from beaches, destroy trees and sweep everything away. These normally occur in the Pacific ocean, and can be triggered by earthquakes. If you’re a fan of the Swedish detective series Wallander, you may remember the sad tale of actress Johanna Berglund-Sällström who played his daughter. She clung to a tree (and her toddler daughter) during the Asian tsunami.

But the trauma of watching people swept to their deaths (including some of her friends) never left her. She suffered years of mental health problems before committing suicide (tragically, her daughter did the same 7 years later, a week before her 13th birthday).

Over the Seawall is a book more on preventing worldwide floods, after Japan’s huge concrete barrier did nothing to save people from a huge tsunami in 2011. Hazardous Seas looks at affordable simple tools to detect tsunamis (like low-cost underwater sensors) that could help prevent more tsunamis (which have claimed 250,000 lives in Japan and Indonesia combined in recent years).

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