Thursday, 27 June 2013

Parliament, ponds and extreme weather

The Houses of Parliament are so familiar that it is easy to forget just what an extraordinary confection of ornamentation they are. There is not a square inch lacking in Victorian flourishes of heraldic arms, gothic crenulations and worthy relief sculpting. Standing outside the Palace the whole structure radiates a slightly alien feel, as if inside its own protective force-field amongst the throng of tourists. I was there for the launch of The British Ecological Society’s latest publication, a review of the impacts of extreme weather on freshwaters in the UK. A tricky document to pull together because studying extreme events is an ad hoc science, replying on unforeseen opportunities as drought or flood strike the UK and often lacking reliable data from before the crisis against which any impacts can be judged. Nonetheless the review pulls together evidence from lakes, rivers and ponds and paints a fascinating picture of the changeability and resilience of our freshwaters. The broad message is that our freshwaters are vulnerable and can show rapid degradation, but nature bounces back so long as there are refuges elsewhere in  catchment or wider landscape from which the wildlife can recover (the whole document can be downloaded at
Northumberland, and Druridge Bay, feature large in the review, because I helped write the report and they are what I know best. In particular the Hauxley experimental ponds are an unusual example of a long term study, around long enough to have been hit by extreme rainfall and prolonged droughts. The impacts of the June 1997  deluge in Northumberland, an event so unusual that it may be a 1 in 300 year event, are shown in the report in photos of the River Wansbeck strewn with ripped up bulrushes and the Hauxley ponds are pictured because of the thick mats of algal that developed when the ponds did not dry out, with the result that other wildlife was partly smothered out. Odd but also charming to be thinking of Druridge Bay and Hauxley in the wood panelled grandeur of the palace of Westminster, crackling with power and the hushed sound of crustless finger sandwiches being hoovered up.

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