Thoughts from an active pensioner who is now somewhat past his Biblical "Use-by date"

"Why just be difficult, when with a little more effort you can be bloody impossible?"

Tuesday, 5 January 2016


I'm starting with two picture of Lambeth Palace which is situated on the south side of the River Thames, almost opposite the Houses of Parliament.

The first, a painting from about 1750 shows the palace alongside the Thames, quite close to the water's edge with maybe a footpath between the river and the palace wall.

This second picture is taken from Google Maps and shows a recent aerial view, but with one big difference, the is now a main road, some gardens and the embankment footpath between the the Palace and the river. Whilst it is impossible to be exact, probably the river has been narrowed by some fifty feet in the couple of hundred years since the artist painted the first picture.

This is just one example of how our waterways have been narrowed, further down, near where I used to work, the embankment road had been diverted under the north arch of Blackfriars' bridge, narrowing the width of the river by 'half an arch'. This has happened all along the Thames and I've no doubt that the same has happened to rivers elsewhere around the country.

There are numerous other old paintings which prove my point, the one showing the frozen Thames is of interest as there is no way that the fast flowing modern river is ever likely to freeze; not due to global warming, but due to the fast movement of the water.

The net result of this narrowing of our rivers is that the water not only flows faster, but when we get very heavy rain, there is now insufficient capacity to cope with the extra water and the river overflows up stream. This of course was never a problem in the past, if it happened, the water went into low lying fields adjacent to the river with little inconvenience to anyone except possibly the farmers. But now, these water meadows are disappearing; a builder looking for land sees them in the summer as good flat building land and fills them with nice houses with a river view. The trouble as their owners have discovered, it's a nice view in the summer, but far from nice during a wet autumn when the water is lapping around their ankles or even reaching their windowsills!

Of course, not all houses are built on such land; many are built on higher land. Generally the owners have no problems as they busily concrete over their drives and build patios, but every bit of land that is covered is that much less land to absorb the water when it rains. Where I live, most of our tap water comes from the underground aquifer, where water collects in the porous sub-surface strata from which it can be pumped. But in spite of all the rain, this area is having problems of water shortage because as a result of the building, less water is soaking into the land and instead is pouring down drains and going into the nearest rivers.

These, of course, are not the only problems; there are others such as the lack of work being carried out to dredge the rivers for so-called 'environmental reasons'. If we are narrowing the rivers and sending more water into them, the only way to cope is to make them deeper which means regular dredging.

Of course there is a large lobby which wishes to convince the public that the floods are nothing to do with building or the lack of dredging, but that they are due to climate change. The Met Office, aided by the BBC are keen to convince us that the recent rainfall is the highest since 'records began', but are very careful to avoid telling us when that was! We also saw what happened last year when the Somerset levels were flooded; the official line was that it was not due to lack of dredging of the local rivers, but again to abnormal circumstances resulting from climate change.

According to the BBC's web site, Sir James Bevan, the Environment Agency's chief executive has said that "People will always come first" in the battle to defend the UK against flooding, ."If we have to choose between people and wildlife, we will always, of course, choose people".

I'll believe it when I see it!

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