It’s hard to know who to believe at the moment isn’t it?
On the one hand the Met Office in the UK are saying that though climate change has increased temperatures by one degree, this would mean that it will be decades before the kind of weather we have been experiencing becomes the norm. That same Met Office is also saying that there is a direct link between the warmth this December and the increased levels of rainfall.
On the other hand a recent study by Oxford University and the Royal Meteorological Institute in the Netherlands is saying that the flooding caused by the recent storms is 40% more severe because of because of global warming. I don’t know if it’s the changing jet stream, climate change, freak weather or a combination of all the above.
Most likely a combination of some or all of these factors and possibly some more that we are not even aware of yet. Whatever the reason, the answer, as it so often is, is found in the garden and by working with nature.
Rivers flowing too quickly, land being treated to improve drainage and not holding water, and of course building on flood plains are all exacerbating the problem of flooding.
On the one hand we are encouraging the rivers to flow faster and directing them into developed and urban areas at high speed and at the same time we are now investing millions into necessary flood defences. Peat bogs will hold 90% water but many of these have been stripped for commercial gain and many wetland areas have also been drained for agricultural use.
These are the natural sponges along waterways, which up to recent years, used to soak up flood waters from over-full rivers. Trees will soak up water up to 60 times faster than land with just grass yet Ireland’s hedgerows and woodland have been decimated for that extra few metres of arable ground.
As a result, less water is being absorbed in these areas and the soil, much of which is compacted as a result of intensive farming, is also being washed into the rivers.
On a domestic level too, we can all play our part. In towns and cities, more and more gardens are being sacrificed for extra parking spaces and hard surfaces. Lawns and flower beds are making way for concrete and decking.
Water that would otherwise be absorbed by the soil and plants is instead running off into storm drains that can’t handle the volume. To highlight this problem in the UK the RHS has been running a scheme for the last few years ‘Greening Grey Britain’, encouraging people to remove much of the concrete and put it back to grass and gardens.
The town of Pickering in North Yorkshire is an example of how working with nature can help to alleviate the problem of flooding. Having suffered greatly for many years they decided that rather than waiting for government-funded flood defences which would probably never come, they looked to traditional, natural ways of controlling the river.
Methods included small, trickly dams in upland areas and the planting of 29 hectares of woodland along the riverside to slow the flow of water from the hills down into the river. It worked during heavy flooding this year, and is being hailed as an example for other communities to follow.
If your garden has areas that are prone to waterlogging and flooding, then don’t rush to drain them, rather look at using plants that like these conditions. You will end up with a broader spectrum of plants and greater biodiversity in the garden and may save a fortune on work that ultimately may be fruitless.
Cornus or Dogwoods love damp and sodden conditions and these bring such beauty to the garden creating vibrant and colourful displays.
‘Midwinter Fire’ is my favourite of all the varieties with its orangey red and yellow stems and growing en masse it gives a stunning winter effect. The berries too will attract birds during the winter and the flowers during the summer will benefit the bees and butterflies.
Salix or Willow will also provide excellent stem displays in the winter garden. Salix alba vitellina is a striking orange-coloured variety, which will offer nearly 2 metres of growth in one season so I would recommend hard pruning and planting during March to ensure good and multiple stem growth from low down on the plant for the nicest effect.
Perhaps farmers too could look at Willow as a commercial crop on low ground, which might help with flooding problems, while bringing in an income.as a sustainable source of fuel for wood-burning stoves etc.