After the wettest December on record its not surprising that the Wyre Forest is awash. We’ve been amazed at how the forest floor has literally sprung to life with hundreds of threads of water seeking the fastest way to the River Severn that flows through nearby Bewdley. With the undulating terrain due to the intricate geology of the area, and the almost continuous tree cover, thankfully this isn’t very fast! As a result, unlike many less fortunate souls, the area has so far avoided serious flooding. Earlier in the winter though, the Severn rose sufficiently to require the deployment of the town’s temporary flood defences.
The River Severn is the longest in the UK and the greatest in terms of water flow. It rises in Wales, near Lanidloes not far from the home of Welsh Mountain Cider who, not entirely coincidentally, have supplied some of the cider apple trees we are planting in St George’s Orchard. It’s widely known the Severn is prone to flooding and this has been a major problem for Bewdley in the recent past. The town’s proximity to TV studios Birmingham means that the beautiful Telford bridge over the river has been a popular vantage point for TV crews. Tony Blair paid a televised visit in 2000 when families had to be evacuated from their Severnside homes. It was those floods that led to the investment in the current temporary defences. Downstream, the Severn flows through Worcester, Gloucester and Tewkesbury which have all suffered serious flooding recently.
Dowles Brook, a tributary of the Severn, is the main waterway through the forest. It flows about half a mile from St George’s Farm and for much of its course forms the border between Shropshire and Worcestershire. There used to be three mills along Dowles – Coopers Mill, Knowles Mill, Town Mill. Needless to say they ceased working many years ago but Knowles Mill has been preserved by the National Trust. It is one of our favourite stops on our widening and increasingly muddy network of walking routes through the forest. The Dowles floods regularly as evidenced by carvings on the mill’s door frame. While it’s in spate at the moment, it’s still a few metres lower than the heights it reached in 2012, the year of the most recent flood.
With the threat of more frequent flooding as the climate changes, there has been a lot of discussion in environmental world about natural flood defences. This involves changes to land management to delay and reduce the passage of rainfall downstream, such as by restoring wetlands, planting trees in floodplains and creating small dams with woody debris. Reintroducing beavers with their dam-building expertise, it has even been suggested, might be one way of helping to stem run-off from upland areas.
Natural measures such as these – so far excluding the beavers – have been used in Slowing the Flow, an award-winning scheme in Pickering, North Yorkshire. The beauty of the watery, wooded landscapes we are now enjoying is greatly enhanced by the new babbling watercourses flowing downhill overcoming the small natural dams of leafy and woody debris, creating associated miniature waterfalls on their way. One wonders how much more frequently the Severn would break its banks were it not for the flood-regulating function of the trees and woodland streams of the Wyre Forest?