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Don't bank on it as experts predict monsoons

Friday 08 September 2006

Our countryside commentator John Sheard, still suffering from the chill he caught whilst watching rugby in a deluge last weekend, ponders the "expert" predictions that Britain is about to have a regular monsoon season

LAST Saturday marked the opening of the new rugby season and I am writing this with tears in my eyes, a dripping nose and dosed up to the eyeballs with paracetamol. Reason: it began to rain the proverbial cats and dogs at 11.20 am and continued to do so until 3.30 pm

I got soaked to the skin watching Skipton RFC handing out a sound thrashing to Old Modernians from Leeds but this is not a sports report. The reason why I mention it is that, in the clubhouse afterwards, no-one would recall such a sustained bout of rain in early September - and, indeed, on the first day of the season last year, we were all sunbathing on the touchline in shorts!

Swept away by the Lune

I thought little more of it - after all, Yorkshire Dales folk have lived with the vagaries of the weather for centuries - but the following day, one of the posh Sunday broadsheets carried this headline: "Britain gets a monsoon forecast."

According to experts at Newcastle University, we could in fact face autumn downpours on a monsoon-like scale because sea temperatures around our shores are rising due to global warming. This means that more seawater evaporates to be, in turn, dumped on us as heavy rain.

Now decades of reporting theories from so-called "experts" have left me distinctly leery about placing too much faith in what they say - for instance, who knows what is healthy or not healthy to eat these days as nutritionists contradict each other on an almost daily basis.

But as someone who spends many hours a week outdoors, I have noticed some strange signs this year which do suggest a definite change. For instance, until last weekend, most of the very heavy rainfall of late summer was concentrated in the east of the country, allegedly the driest.

Yet for weeks, my allotment suffered from drought and that is some 600 feet up in the Pennines - the place which was always supposed to be one of the wettest parts of England. History has it that the wool and cotton industries grew up in the Pennines because the damp atmosphere was ideal for spinning and weaving yarn.

This personal observation, rather worryingly, coincides with the findings of the Newcastle scientists, who say that heavy rainfall has increased by 72% over the past 40 years in Eastern Scotland, with smaller but still dramatic increases in areas bordering the North Sea.

In the North West, where I do a lot of my fishing, "monsoon-type" downpours have increased by 11%. Here is the Dales, where we are sandwiched between the two; I presume we share a bit of both. And it is (as always) on the river bank where I have witnessed the most dramatic changes.

In fact, that is something of a lie- because many of the river banks I once knew well have now gone, swept away by enormous river floods. There was, only three years ago, a stately bank on the River Lune which, as my picture above shows, has now been totally swept away.

This was one of my favourite places because, once we had trapped or shot the mink released by so-called animal rights protestors, kingfishers and bank martins made their nesting burrows there. The first cracks appeared three or four years ago and now the whole site has gone.

I have witnessed similar erosion on the Aire near Skipton and the Ure in Wensleydale so it is problem which involves the whole of the Yorkshire Dales and much of the Lake District. It is bad for wildlife, for my fishing, but much worse for farmers, who - in the nation as a whole - must be losing tens of thousands on acres of good valley-bottom land.

But worst of all, it is a potential disaster in the making for householders whose homes stand on river flood plains, thousands of which have been given the go-ahead by local planners despite warnings of potential danger from experts.

In the very same monsoon article last Sunday, it was reported that some insurance companies were thinking of refusing cover for such homes because of a change in Government policy. And what was that? Gordon Brown has cut the Environment Agency's budget for coastal and river flood defences.

If Noah Brown is to be in charge of building the next Ark, there won't be much hope for the animals going in two-by-two. Or we humans, for that matter. It will either sink when the first furry couple steps aboard - or run aground on the tip of Pen-y-Ghent!

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