Thursday, 9 January 2014

'And rain fell on the Earth for 40 days and 40 nights...'

Happy New Year!  2014 is upon us, and what an entrance it made – gale force winds heavy deluges of rain and wide reaching power failures left people all across the country wallowing in watery despair over Christmas and New Year.  Whilst I lost power from the 23rd to the evening of the 24th, we were lucky enough to get it back on for Christmas – far luckier than some others including my poor volunteers the Floyds’, who spent Christmas in their New Forest home in darkness and chill!

We had a rota of rangers in every day over Christmas and new year and as a result we all witnessed the carnage first hand in one way or another; whether it was winching trees out the river, cutting them up by boat, clearing huge oaks from the road, unblocking the access to the sheep which was blocked by a fallen tree or clearing ditches to try and prevent the river from flooding houses and gardens, everyone got involved.
The river Dun - much of river keeper Neil's watery kingdom has now doubled in size and spread!

The Abbey stream at Mottisfont breached into the river garden which has now taken literal ownership of it's title.
I spent New Year’s Day doing the rounds which involved slipping and sliding head over toe in the rain and mud of the sheer escarpment at Stockbridge checking the animals and then driving round checking our carparks in the New Forest for any problems or flytipping.  I have never seen the Forest so saturated with water; looking over the vast expanse of bleak, desolate heathland, there were swollen arteries and veins of water flowing through the landscape every few metres.  The rivers were all breached and flooded, and I got to test the sturdiness of the truck out by braving (brave or stupid?) the rushing torrent of Rockford Ford where the waves lapped the bonnet and negotiating the streets of Hightown which were, ironically enough, under water for a good few hundred metres.

We are all back at work this week and are still clearing up the aftermath.  Our estate has suffered a lot of tree damage from our Hamble site, to Stockbridge, to the New Forest and that’s without even mentioning the Mottisfont woodlands where there will be fallen trees in situ for months to come.

However, life goes on, the winds have abated and the water levels are slowly beginning to creep down – although every burst of rain produces so much groundwater that the flood risk won’t be truly reduced for many days yet.  The property has remained open where it can and we shall continue the clear up effort – there are some interesting challenges to work out, with regards to the positioning of some of the hung up and fallen trees over stretches of river – too damp to get a tractor and winch onsite, yet they are in too perilous a position (next to a railway) to fell out right without any kind of winch force pull on them…any ideas or solutions please post to us!
Life does go on - no amount of atrocious weather stops this lot; Monday volunteers out on Stockbridge this week.

 The wet conditions also caused us to nearly lose one of the sheep over the weekend – although not by being crushed from a fallen tree, but by slipping in the mud on the slope, onto its back where it slid and managed to catch its foreleg in between 2 hazel stems – the chances are about a billion to one of it managing to do that, but as people say, sheep will try their damn best to hurt themselves!

My sheep looker found her – fortunately we think it was very soon after it had happened – and managed to free the leg whilst I phoned the vet and sent her down there.  Long story short – what looked like a broken leg (which would be game over) then looked like severe shock and trauma (again, game over) turned into the God of sheep cutting us a wee bit of a break, when the animal suddenly recovered from her death’s door shock state, got up and started eating on 3 legs.  If a sheep can eat, then it’s not in too bad a condition!  She has made a full recovery thanks to some anti-inflammatories and the quick work of sheep looker Sue finding her in time (if a sheep is stuck on its back for too long, their lungs fill with fluid and they ‘drown’ under their own weight).

Some of the ewe's expressing their disgust at the tree that crushed both sides of the handling pen and fell over their feed box and water trough.

So all in all, an eventful start to the New Year!  I hear that we have some colder weather on the way at last and whilst I don’t want the deep freeze the US is currently in the grip of, I think we are in desperate need of some cold, dry weather to firm up the ground and give nature a chance to properly become dormant – we saw some hazel flowers and catkins in bud the other day, way too early!.  We shall have to wait and see what the back end of winter brings us…
A glimmer of light - and hope - after the storm.

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