We have had plenty of practice now for lockdowns, so it is easier to slip into the routine of not going anywhere and mostly seeing other people on a screen. We had a few weeks of volunteering in December and were ready to continue in January under Tier 4 regulations, but Lockdown 3 changed that, and we have been confined to barracks since.
Matt had a busy rota of work lined up for us and we were keen to get started. Our first day out was scheduled for the UEA Fen for a final push in this season clearing the willow scrub. That wouldn’t have happened anyway because of flooding along the Yare Valley following heavy rainfall in December. The fen area would have been under a few feet of water much like other areas when the River Yare overflowed its banks.
My wife Jane and I had to confine our walk on Christmas Day morning to Marston Lane as the water levels on Marston Marsh had reached the top of the field gates in the lower lying areas and the path had disappeared. By Boxing Day, the gateposts had disappeared as well, and the water was lapping the edge of the lane. Our volunteers installed some of the posts and gates so know that these are at least four foot high! Eaton Common was also under water and the path between the common and Keswick Mill was impassable. Water levels were much higher than I had previously seen at Marston although some of my neighbours recall Marston Lane itself being flooded a few decades ago.
Fellow volunteer Chrissie recently told me that on Christmas Day she had seen people canoeing and paddle-boarding on Marston Marsh and that there were also a couple of swimmers braving the waters. Not something I would wish to do given the barbed wire fences and other obstructions hidden in the depths. Bowthorpe Southern Park was similarly inundated with water levels almost reaching the top of the willow trees we pollarded in mid-December – another four feet!
When the floodwaters receded, we found that a bridge on Marston Marsh had shifted and now had a hump. It had floated off its moorings and then settled back on top of the supporting posts. It remains stable and usable but is another project for our volunteers to deal with when conditions (and Coronavirus regulations) permit.
There was also a film of diesel on the main river flowing through the marsh which had come from a spill somewhere near the University. The leak had started before Christmas and the Environment Agency were investigating its source. It took a couple of weeks to identify and stem the leak but hopefully the wildlife and fish have survived this. See article – River Yare oil leak source found by Environment Agency.
The UEA has now closed the “mathematical” bridge across the Yare Because of damage to its foundations caused by the recent flooding. It links a popular walk between the UEA Broad and Colney Lane and will have a big impact on the many people who use the route. This emphasises that the recent floods were greater than in recent years and more damaging with more rain forecast from Storm Christoph. See article – UEA bridge over River Yare closed off after flooding damage.
I walked around Marston Marsh path shortly after the floodwaters subsided and noticed fresh molehills in an area which would have been heavily flooded a few days earlier. It got me thinking about the effects on the wildlife on the marsh during the floods when burrows and habitat piles would have been under water. The swans and other aquatic birds were enjoying the flooded marsh with new areas to explore but hopefully the voles and moles and other burrowing animals have strategies or safe havens to help them survive.
Matt and Paula continue to deal with the urgent and necessary jobs around our sites but without the support of our volunteers. The Coronavirus vaccine offers hope for the future and with most of our volunteers qualifying for the first five Priority Groups we should all be offered our first dose by April with many of us vaccinated by end of February.
Stay safe and take care.