From the vaults: The wettest drought in history? (28/04/2012)

The wettest drought in history?

I was about to post that – for a brief while at least – it hasn’t been raining. In the time it took to type in the post title the first spots of the latest downpour appeared on the window and on the stone slabs just outside. April has been almost a complete washout; plans for trips to Wales or The Peaks have been deferred, deferred again, and as of today remain firmly on hold.

We ventured as far as the Severn valley again earlier today (the actual valley of the river, rather than the similarly named preserved railway). The rise in water levels over the last couple of weeks has been astonishing, as is the speed at which the river is now moving. Mature trees growing from the banks – ones which were, until recently, well clear of the river – are now already submerged to beyond two thirds of their height. Some paths have disappeared below water; others will soon follow. Deeper, wider, faster flowing – all visible evidence of the sudden increase in the volume of water.

Locals who know about these things tell us that rain falling on the Welsh uplands will pass through the Bridgnorth-Worcester stretch of the Severn about four days later. It has rained pretty consistently over the last four days, so there’s a lot more to come down from Pumlumon Fawr; a lot more to come down from the sky too, if the forecasters are to be believed. First level flood warnings, running from Shropshire as far south as Gloucestershire, are showing on the Environment Agency website; hopefully things will get no worse than that.

I can live with the rain; it’s part of the deal and without it our landscape wouldn’t be our landscape. The way in which the river has been transformed so quickly from its leisurely amble through the Shropshire countryside to a fast-moving and substantial mass of water is a potent reminder of the power of natural forces. That said, I’m feeling ready now for shorts, trail shoes, t-shirt, and the opportunity to rest for a while, on a patch of dry ground on a warm day, while the wildlife carries on its business around us. I want to sit with a drink and a sandwich, propped against a sun-warmed rock, watching the birds, admiring the view. Not too much to ask is it?

Spring on hold

Enjoyable though it was, that late March heatwave was always likely to give way to something a little less benign. April reverted to type around these parts – listening to drought warnings from the implausibly glib executives of privatised water companies while watching the rain lash against the windows for days on end. “When water falls as heavy rain that doesn’t necessarily help the situation” Oh yes, one of the shameless buggers actually said that.

Anyway, I digress. Winter decided to fire at least one parting shot, and today’s wind carried a bite which wouldn’t have disgraced February. Coupled with frequent spells of heavy rain this caused us to set off already contemplating how far we’d be likely to get before turning back; not an ideal frame of mind with which to begin a walk.

The overriding impression today was of a stunted spring; as if a process had somehow begun and then gone into abeyance. Bluebells appeared to have half emerged, hesitated and lost confidence; the trees are not quite as you would expect them to be by mid-April. The birds, in all their many varieties, seemed as indefatigable as ever though; body clocks probably demanding that they simply get on with it.

We met a couple of birders out looking for a Ring Ouzel which they’d been tipped off was in the locality. Despite harbouring serious doubts I scanned around with the binoculars while they were setting up their scopes and tripods and there, perched in the still bare branches of a small tree, sat the very Ring Ouzel which had drawn them to this spot. Unless of course it was the other one, sat in an adjacent tree; for there was indeed a pair.

I’d only ever seen one Ring Ouzel before: it was perched on a cliff near Llyn Brianne and that one I would neither have spotted or been able to identify had it not been pointed out to me. My wife had never seen one at all. And today there they were – a pair no more than 5 miles from our front door.

Life is full of surprises