After the storms and rain over the Christmas holidays, Teifi Marshes is completely inundated. Streams have become torrents, summertime ponds look like lakes, and the deep creeks are full to bursting. Without having protected our marshes and wetland from development, all this flood water would have flowed straight through Cardigan. Instead the marsh has acted like a giant sponge, storing water to be released slowly and steadily, preventing potentially harmful flooding.
Teifi Marshes isn’t the only wetland area which plays this beneficial role in Afon Teifi catchment area. Much further up river, a few miles north of Tregaron, we find Cors Caron National Nature Reserve. This red peat bog has developed over millennia, forming from semi-decomposed sphagnum bog mosses, and building up into a dome now over 5 metres high. Here too the peat acts as a massive sponge, trapping and retaining excess rainwater, and preventing flooding further downstream.
Sadly most of our wetlands have been drained and lost to commercial agriculture. The recent rains have shown us how it’s absolutely vital that remaining bogs, marshes and wet areas are protected from development. Additionally, as forecasters predict increasingly tempestuous weather for Wales, we should be looking for opportunities to restore drained land to its original wetland status. At Cors Caron, Natural Resource Wales staff have in fact done so, blocking drainage ditches (previously cut by local people seeking peat as fuel), so allowing the bog to store all the rainfall falling upon it. Across the UK other areas of peat land are being restored in similar fashion. This can be a major undertaking across vast wilderness areas, as shown by a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust project, where unmanned aerial drones have been used to map damaged peat bogs.
While too much water entering rivers through land drainage causes us problems, so does pollution, this impacting upon water quality. In a rural catchment area, like Afon Teifi, sadly the majority of water quality problems are caused by poor farming practice. Seemingly small “diffuse” pollution sources, such as poached field gateways, badly drained dairy yards, animals damaging river banks and beds, and ill timed applications of slurry, fertiliser and pesticides, combine to cause major water pollution issues.
Many farmers are aware of these problems on their farms, and work tirelessly to improve their farm’s status. Help and funding is available for on farm changes, aimed at improving water quality, from the Welsh Government’s agri-environmental “Glastir” scheme. However, Glastir is hindered by insufficient political priority, and a drastic lack of funding. In Wales, as across the UK, the environment receives plenty of political lip service, yet little notable action, from our elected representatives. Additionally, many farmers find the scheme cumbersome, horribly bureaucratic and the improvements it funds overly prescriptive.
Providing land management advice to the agricultural sector is an area in which environmental charities have become involved in recent years. An outstanding example can be seen in Devon, where the Devon Wildlife Trust is just over halfway through a 3 year project aimed at improving water quality in the River Torridge catchment; made famous by Henry Williamson’s beautiful tale, Tarka the Otter. Under this scheme, Devon Wildlife Trust has provided land management advice, restored hedgerows and wet “culm” grasslands, and created woodlands and wetlands, all of which benefit water quality. More information can be found at http://www.devonwildlifetrust.org/northern-devon-nature-improvement-area/