Back to the future

Rain often leads to flooding. That is the way in which nature has evolved and areas such as flood plains are designed by nature for this purpose. On rare occasions torrential downpours can result in rivers bursting their banks or swelling beyond recognition and causing devastation to the surrounding area.

Nature takes its course, but nature has a nice habit of monitoring and regulating itself. None of this was a problem before humans started populating the valleys and riversides. As soon as we started building, we started imposing ourselves on nature and rather than work with it we bent it to suit our requirements. In some cases, this has been done well and, in many others, badly. In Inverclyde we have five towns sandwiched between rolling hills and the River Clyde. Basic physics tells us that water runs down, not up. Instantly we can see the problem. The rainfall must go somewhere. We have established that it is going to run down towards the river but the speed with which it travels is crucial. Before there was any major construction in the area, we now classify as Inverclyde, nature had created a network of burns that carried the excess. Ladyburn, Cartsburn, Dellingburn, Westburn, Bouverie and Coves were not just locations they were active burns which formed a crucial part of our local eco system. Before we filled the hills with sheep, we had forests, peat and shrubs. They soaked up rainfall and slowed the rate at which it hit the ground. Tree canopy is an important factor. It may not look like much, but every wet leaf and branch holds rain that isn’t adding to the saturation of land. But we denuded the hills and destroyed the peatland. This increased the rate and the amount of rain pouring off the hills towards the river. And we built houses, roads and railways and in doing so we diverted and even merged burns. We tried to outsmart nature and we lost. More recently we have filled in docklands, the outcome being that the water has further to travel before making it to the river. This is most obvious when the main roads flood. Much mitigating has taken place but looking to the future, every time we Monoblock a drive, put down plastic grass, build houses, cut down trees, clear hedge ways, we are once again going to increase the volume and speed of the water. The flood prevention that we are putting in place will require upgrading, again. Or we could work with nature. Restore the peatland. Inverclyde has over five thousand hectares that could be restored. This lends itself to ecological, socio-economic and cultural regeneration. Reforestation in the right places, with the right trees, ticks all those boxes too. And it doesn’t have to be trees. Nature provides us with a vast range of plants that will retain water, encourage insect life and bird life while working in a practical and aesthetically pleasing way. We don’t need engineering marvels to resolve the problems, nature has given us all the materials and we have the skills to utilise them.

I am in discussion with Inverclyde council, NatureScot, the Yearns Stane Project, Forestry Scotland, Woodlands Trust and other stakeholders and we hope to be able to attract the funding to carry out major projects in Inverclyde. With the right commitment we can, to paraphrase ex councillor Jim Hunter, put the ‘Green back in Greenock’ and go beyond that to improve the environment, carbon footprint and even flooding in Inverclyde.