Posted by: Vicki Burns | December 10, 2015

Deadly Flooding in Britain Exacerbated by Human Actions

The terrible flooding in northwest England resulting from Storm Desmond brings to mind some of the extreme flooding we have seen across the Prairies in Canada in the past decade. In Britain, the worst hit area of Cumbria received about a month’s worth of rain in just one day, approximately 34 centimetres. This degree of flooding used to be called a “once in 100 years event” but this type of catastrophe has happened 3 times in the past decade in Cumbria. No doubt climate change plays a big part in this with the extra heat in the atmosphere allowing more moisture to be held and then dumped in these big storms.cumbria flooding
However, it’s not climate change alone that can be blamed for this type of flooding. Man-made alterations of our natural landscapes are decreasing the resiliency of the land to slow down and absorb some of the rain as it falls. In England, the clearing of trees from the land to increase pasture size and the dredging and canalising of rivers has exacerbated the damage as huge torrents of water rush over the land ending up flooding communities in its path. In Canada we know that the draining of almost 70% of our wetlands is contributing to similar destructive flooding. The need to keep water on the land has never been more urgent.
We now understand that clearing land, straightening river channels, draining wetlands all contribute to massive damage caused by great flows of water rushing off the land as these big storms occur. We can no longer justify these types of actions or we will be guilty of wilful ignorance. There will, of course, be need to clear for some development but remedial action to restore the lost resiliency of the land should be part of any landscape changes. In my home province of Manitoba in Canada, there was recent legislation put forward  which embodied the principle of “no net loss“of wetland benefits when drainage occurs. Unfortunately that legislation has not moved forward due to termination of the legislative session but hopefully will do so when the session reconvenes in the New Year.
The damage and destruction of floods is expected to continue more frequently as the climate warms. Our actions to decrease the overall severity of that damage should include “keeping water on the land” to slow it down. Changing human behaviour is never easy but we’ll experience so much more pain if we don’t embrace this change to recognize and appreciate the resiliency inherent in our natural landscapes



  1. Thanks Vicki.

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