*Cover image shows Attenborough cricket field under water.

After the Flood[1] 

Back in 1982, Toto “blessed the rains down in Africa”.[2] But I doubt anyone blessed the rains we had back in October, especially in Attenborough Nature Reserve. Or as I like to call it, ‘my nature reserve’.

Erin McDaid, Head of Communications for Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, who manage Attenborough Nature Reserve, assured me that this sentiment is held by a few thousand others. I’m happy to share it; the proximity of the nature reserve was the primary reason for buying a house just across the railway line, 16 years ago.

I recall well the October day in 2009, when I saw men with chainsaws climbing up ‘my’ beautiful silver birch tree, which grew directly opposite my house. I loved that tree. I watched helplessly through my kitchen window as they cut it down and I wept. In the reserve later, I asked why they’d had to cut it down.

I had assumed it was diseased; it was not. It had to go to make way for the machinery needed to build the flood defence. While I appreciate the benefits of the barrier, I’m still sad about the loss of that tree fourteen years later.

Some readers will recall the immense flood in 2000; a concern when buying a house just a few years later. Since then, however, despite yearly spring and autumn floods, I’ve had nothing more troubling than a slightly squelchy rear garden. My house is no longer at risk and house insurance has become easier to obtain.

To be honest, I find the biannual flooding in the reserve exhilarating. I eagerly don my wellies and paddle through the water excitedly taking photos most years. I enjoy the drastic change to the landscape; where land becomes water and thereby almost unrecognisable. And I feel a thrill at the thought that although humans think we’re in control, nature just kicks up her heels and shows us who’s really in charge.

When I spoke with Erin, he said that the rapidity of the rising water levels this time took everyone by surprise. This was evident in the Environment Agency taking two days to close the flood gates. There were complaints. Apparently the water rose much faster than they had anticipated, ahead of their usual triggers for shutting the gates.

The first and most urgent job for the Wildlife Trust though, was to move cattle to drier ground. Sheep on Glebe Field, adjacent to Attenborough village, and cows at Idle Valley Nature Reserve[3] near Retford, needed to be rescued simultaneously. It took quick thinking, resourcefulness and good organisation, but they succeeded.

The Trust also had to close Attenborough Nature Centre on the Friday, because the ‘apron’ (area in front of the drawbridge into the centre) was under water. That one day closure ended up being extended to a whole week, which has never happened before. This not only causes disruption for staff and visitors, but also a loss of much-needed income for the Trust from the shop and café.

It is concerning that what used to be a rare occurrence is now happening with more regularity and a bigger impact. Erin recognises the need for more conscious, responsible water awareness when building new housing. Not building on flood plains, of course, but also ensuring that flood management and drainage are included in the early planning process, to protect people and homes.

The damage caused by this flood to the land and animals who live on it could only be assessed once the waters had returned to normal levels. The main concern though, was for small mammals and invertebrates, who probably had no time to escape.

Meanwhile, as tempting and exciting as it is for some of us, he warned against adults, children or dogs splashing in the water, because with such a deluge, it’s not just river water, but storm drains and sewage can also flow into the water, making it a health risk, rather than the fun one anticipates.

You can sign up for flood warnings from the Environment Agency: https://www.gov.uk/sign-up-for-flood-warnings or call Floodline on 0345 988 1188.

[1] Song reference: After the Flood, by Lone Justice, 1985

[2] Song reference: Africa, by Toto, 1982

[3] https://www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org/idle-valley