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A big thank-you for wet Yorkshire Dales winters

Friday 07 March 2008

Our countryside commentator John Sheard recants some past complaints about long, wet winters and suggests we should rejoice that in the Yorkshire Dales we do not face a Saharan future

RETURNING from a rare trip across the border from Lancashire this week (yes, I had taken all the necessary shots and my visa was in order) I passed the huge reservoir which lies between Colne and Foulridge and feasted on a sight for sore eyes: for the first time in some years, it was full to the very brim.

This rather lovely stretch of water is not a reservoir for drinking water but a header source for the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, created by our Victorian forefathers who built to last. For several years past, it has come very close to drying out, which would have threatened the lively tourist trade from narrow boats, fishermen, walkers and cyclists attracted by the canal as it winds through the southern Yorkshire Dales via Skipton.

Give thanks for the River
Give thanks for the River - Photo: Chris Foster

Now I have complained in this column many times about the wet, wet winters of recent times. They have turned my allotment into a swamp and stopped me fishing because of flood and torrent - but this full reservoir was a sight for sore eyes.

Reason: a report was issued this week which says that South East England will be a dry as the Sahara Desert by the year 2030, thanks to climate change and a swift –growing population. There will not be enough water to drink or grow crops, never mind run the dish-washer, according to the powerful international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

This report being the product of bureaucrats, this does not means that the South Downs will turn into sand dunes. The calculations are based on the amount of water available per person. And as there are very few people living in the Sahara, what little water there is goes a very long way.

South East England, however, is one of the heaviest populated regions in Europe and the situation gets worse by the year, thanks to the population drift from the rest of Britain to that region, plus the uncounted millions of immigrants flooding in, many of them illegally.

All this makes a folly of present Government policy which is demanding the building of three million new homes by 2030, most of them in the South East and many of them on flood plains. Although if the OECD is right in its forecast, there will be no rivers left to flood!

Contrast this, then, with the situation in Yorkshire and, in particular, the Yorkshire Dales where, thankfully, we have rivers flowing in all directions plus – something we never see – some of the deepest aquifers in Europe.

I was once told that in some parts of the Dales, rainwater which falls today and is sucked deep into the bowels of our limestone – creating our much visited pot-holes at the same time – does not resurface for some years. In other words, our towns and villages are built on top of our very own natural reservoir.

These are the aquifers which feed our crystal clear streams and rivers like the Wharfe and the Aire, the Nidd and the Ure and – even if global warming gets as bad as the so-called experts insist – will keep us and our farms in sweet, sweet water for generations to come.

We might be able to keep our flushing loos and – yes – even our washing machines whilst Southerners queue up at stand-pipes in the street. And as they have been sucking the wealth out of the North for the past 50 years, this could be construed as God’s Punishment (although much of it is, of course, man-made).

As I try to tackle my allotment this weekend, which looks like a World War 1 battlefield after a long, wet winter, I must thank my lucky stars. Come summer, there might be enough water left to feed my ever-thirsty runner beans!

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