GOB 176 – Water World

This article first appeared in the November 2023 issue of Birdwatching Magazine

Water, Water every where, nor any drop to drink…” so said Coleridge in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Of course he was talking about becalmed mariners driven mad by seeing undrinkable sea water when anything potable had run out.

Disastrously, this is where we are heading on land with ‘water wars’ no longer a science fiction fantasy, but a growing possibility as we drive on global warming through our continuing greed and terrible management of this precious necessity. How long before pumping water on to wildfires is a distant memory? We’ve already stopped basking in sunshine and increasingly hide behind shutters to avoid the record temperatures and turn up the air-con releasing even more fossil fuel pollution.

At home we are already seeing species shift north with new arrivals to our breeding birds and even insects joining the northward shift. Every creature adapted to artic climates teeter on the brink of extirpation… and what do we do? Mostly fiddle while Rome and every other southern capital burn.

Could we make a difference? Yes, we could! But, it seems politicians and oligarchs still think their privileged bolt holes will save them from the conflagration, so they go on making money instead of throwing it at measures to save us and encourage biodiversity.

British weather has always been an international joke… but bowlers and brollies have become redundant, rain is now feast and famine, monsoon storms or dessert-like droughts. In the forties and fifties, with a much lower population and guarantied weather we had emergency outlets for storm drains that were hardly needed. With less intense farming and vehicle pollution run off was not the deadly cocktail it is now, so what little went into our rivers was relatively harmless and soon dispersed. Now, discharges are daily, toxic and disgusting.

We didn’t need to starve the water courses by taking water for ourselves with any regularity and our reservoirs gave adequate supplies. Now rivers literally run dry and those that don’t are clogged and gruesome. We steal the headwaters and pollute the rest. But it can be changed. The start is down to each of us managing water better and not wasting it. With water charges metered it makes economic sense too.

Where would I wave my magic wand first? It’s a no-brainer… stop all discharges into chalk streams and lakes now! Make it an offense to allow agricultural run-off too.

Next wave is over extraction… if we clean rivers up and stop discharges then we can take all we need closer to the sea. The rivers can be healthy nature reserves that still quench our thirst, but only if we stop bottling springs and diverting water from upstream.

While I’ve got my wand out, I think I’ll take a swipe at some other water management… water levels at nature reserves in migration months.

Even a decade ago I had half a dozen places I could watch wader passage even given my lack of mobility. Places that were magnets to Curlew Sandpipers and Stints, Sandpipers and Ring Plovers.

The reserves were sympathetically managed to ensure muddy margins. Now there are none viewable by this decrepit birder limited to a very short walk or kerbside viewing. One is still a magnet for anything with very long legs but nothing shorter than a redshank! The other has no margin at all and the waders all fly by.

What an irony… major reservoirs have acres of baked mud, but nature reserves keep the levels too high when the turn of a screw on a sluice gate would make all the difference!

Rant it out!