In the wake of the floods

Posted on 6th January 2014

From the Northern Echo – December 27th 2013

THE recent stormy weather put life and limb at risk, with hundreds of people having to be evacuated across the region. However, while humans escaped largely unscathed, the environment was not so lucky.
Matt Westcott spoke to the Tees Wildlife Trust about the damage to some keys areas on Teesside.

THE human cost of flash-floods, like those witnessed in September and December, are well documented.
Less so is the impact that the rising waters have on our delicate eco-system.
On September 6, heavy persistent rain caused rivers to swell and low lying areas to become inundated.
Redcar’s Dormanstown and parts of Saltburn were particularly badly affected with residences being flooded, roads washed out and hundreds of tonnes of silt and debris deposited as the waters receded.
Since then, just as those caught up in the deluge are getting their lives and businesses back together, weather forecasters warned of a tidal surge, the worst in 60 years, due to hit the east coast of England on December 5. The surge continued to threaten into the following morning, but by then the worst had already been done.
The damage can still be seen in Saltburn, where parts of the promenade – buildings, tarmac, sandstone blocks from the slipway – have been torn up by the impact of waves hammering into coastal infrastructure.
“Quite rightly the affect on people’s lives has dominated most accounts on TV, in the press and on social media, but here at Tees Valley Wildlife Trust, we can also add our account of recent devastation wrought on our nature reserves, not solely, but most particularly at Saltburn Gill, Coatham Marsh in Redcar and Portrack Marsh at Stockton-on-Tees,” said reserves officer, Daniel van den Toorn.
“In the September downpour, Saltburn Gill was scoured through as the river at the base of this steep-sided wooded valley rose by several metres, uprooting trees, washing out two bridges, lifting boardwalks and depositing tonnes of river stone, gravel, silt and floating debris on footpaths and up against trees.”
The remains of the two bridges were later cleared from the Cat Nab car park, more than 500 metres downstream.
The gill remains closed to access from the Cat Nab end and there is a great deal of work to be done to make the reserve useable again.
“Coatham Marsh was also affected by the September event as water rose by nearly a metre, lifting boardwalks and making the site inaccessible,” said Mr van den Toorn. “This wetland reserve unfortunately became the focus of peoples anger, linking it to the causes of local flooding, a case that was put at a residents meeting in the days following the flooding of Dormanstown.
“This is not the case, however, as can be seen on topographical maps of the area, which show the marsh lies at four metres above sea level. “The areas of worst flooding were seen where the ground level is in the region of three to five metres above sea level, a range which is just too small to avoid a rise in water level of up to a metre in places.”
The most recent storm surge affected the Trusts reserve at Portrack Marsh, as an exceptionally high tide pushed up the Tees estuary and hit the Tees Barrage, which remained closed throughout the event.
“With nowhere to go, the rising water over-crested the cycle track running along the riverbank, which was raised during the straightening of the Tees to make it navigable for ships in the 1830’s – this straightening also isolated the marsh from seasonal flooding, which would have helped maintain a diverse and thriving natural habitat,” said Mr van den Toorn.
“The flooding of the reserve over this bank has washed out steps and submerged a number of features that volunteers had spent over a year installing, including a shell nesting island for tern, 500m of new footpath and a new dipping platform for children to experience life below the water’s surface.
“We are also concerned for the state of a meadow that has, in previous years, given us displays of literally thousands of orchids, as well as vipers bugloss and many other beautiful wildflowers.
“We will have to wait for water levels to drop before we know the true condition of the reserve and to make necessary repairs.”
There could, however, be an unexpected benefit from the waters.
“For the time being we shall try and make the most of what could be a beneficial change for wetland birds, with extended areas of open water and limited visitor access allowing parts of the reserve to remain undisturbed over the winter,” said Mr van den Toorn.
For more details about the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust visit