Try to Tidy Nature and You End Up with a Bigger Mess ; EDITORIAL & OPINION
Kington, Miles, The Independent (London, England)
It has been far too long since we followed Uncle Geoffrey out on of his instructive nature rambles, teaching the lore and the language of the countryside to his niece and nephew Susan and Robert, and often learning something back from them.
So as nature has been up to a fair old few tricks recently, we might all learn something as we accompany the intrepid trio out into the open air.
"We are jolly lucky to have had no flooding near here, Uncle Geoffrey," said Susan.
The three of them were taking a nature ramble along the old Kennet and Avon Canal in Wiltshire.
"I don't think you'll find much flooding associated with canals, Susan," said Robert. "That's the whole point of canals. You put the water in. It stays in. That's it. It's like a bath ..."
"I know that canals don't flood," said Susan, blushing slightly. "I didn't mean that, you dum dum. I meant that this part of Wiltshire is pretty flat and open and I can imagine that rain might cause a lot of havoc. It probably has already, if you're a farmer trying to do some silage or hay-making."
"Robert's right, though, even if only by accident," said Uncle Geoffrey. "This part of Wiltshire doesn't flood a lot. In the old days they had quite a sophisticated system of drainage and irrigation channels in the old water meadows, bringing water out of the river when needed, and draining it back in when not. And although that's all in disuse now, the natural flood controls still seem to work."
"What do you mean by natural flood controls?" said Robert.
"Well, when you get a river in the natural state," explained Uncle Geoffrey," it's not a nice, pretty thing. It's a messy progression of water, edged with runnels, and channels and boggy bits, and little deltas, which all get filled up when the river floods. But then man came along and said 'Ah! If only we got all this cleared up!', and so we put the river behind banks, and converted the swamps into cultivation, and used the river for navigation and leisure purposes, and made it all so choreographed and artificial that when the next big rains came along the river couldn't use its old escape channels to absorb the flooding. …