One year on: Storm Desmond and the Lake District

One year on from Storm Desmond, National Trust rangers in the Lake District are still fixing the damaged caused by floods that left the charity with facing a million pound clean-up bill – including £600,000 worth of uninsured damage.

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View from Latrigg 2016. Credit John Malley

The National Trust looks after a fifth of the land within the the Lake District National Park, including England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, William Wordsworth’s childhood home and 91 tenanted farms.

Storm Desmond brought record rainfall to the Lake District in December last year: with 341mm of rain falling at Honister Pass, Borrowdale, over just 24 hours.

The floods caused landslides, ripped up paths and roads and pulled down miles of fencing and walls. Floodwaters also dumped tonnes of stones and river gravel on farm fields.

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View from Latrigg after Storm Desmond last year. Credit John Malley

Storm Desmond had a serious impact on National Trust places across the Lake District:

  • Wordsworth House, Cockermouth, was left under four feet of water. When floods subsided, a thick crust of river mud had to be scraped off the walled garden by local volunteers.
  • Landslides on Cat Bells, near Keswick, ripped through popular paths and made summit paths almost unnavigable. The 451m-high fell is extremely popular with walkers.
  • The boathouse and shop at Fell Foot Country Park were left under six feet of water after Lake Windermere burst its banks.
  • At Myers Head Mine, Ullswater, floods washed dishwasher-sized stones into the nineteenth century lead mine – destroying the supports that held up a water channel and causing eight metres of ground in front of the mine to crumble into the stream.
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Wordsworth House gardens, post Storm Desmond in 2015. Credit Alex Morgan

The floods caused an estimated £1 million worth of damage, with the clean-up operation still not over.

  • National Trust foresters helped clear trees, stones and bits of caravans from the playing fields at Keswick Football Club.
  • Rangers in Borrowdale worked for six days through heavy rain to erect a temporary footbridge at Watlendath in time for the Christmas holidays, after the 800 year old packhorse bridge was damaged by floodwater
  • In February, a hundred people joined National Trust rangers to clear stones and river gravel from a tenant farmer’s fields at Hartsop Hall, Ullswater.
  • Over £347,000 has been donated to the National Trust by members of the public to fix the damage caused by the storms. This money has helped pay for repairs to footpaths, fences and walls, buildings and bridges in the worst affected areas [6].

Storm Desmond was the third major storm to affect the Lake District in a decade. In 2009, Over 310mm of rain fell on Borrowdale over 24 hours, with Keswick and Cockermouth experiencing heavy flooding. Four year before, high winds swept across Cumbria, causing £400,000-worth of damage to National Trust places.

Following the storms, there have have been calls from farmers, conservationists and the community to make the area more resilient to future flooding.

Mike Innerdale, National Trust Assistant Director of Operations in the Lake District, said: “Our ranger teams have worked alongside tenant farmer’s local communities and partner organisations to fix the damage that Storm Desmond left in its wake.

“With major storms occurring more frequently, we need to think about ways of making the Lakes more resilient to flooding.  This will require all of us involved in managing this special place to work together to find solutions to how this landscape may need to be managed and funded differently to make it more resilient to these events, while retaining the special qualities of the Lakes, like the traditions of hill farming and communal grazing.

“We applaud the government’s commitment to using better integrated planning to address climate change and flooding, with the Lake District nominated as one of four ‘pioneer’ project areas. If that approach is to succeed, the farmers and organisations that look after much of the national park need to be involved from the start.”

The National Trust has already welcomed the Environment Secretary’s commitment to spend £15m on natural flood defence schemes, announced in November 2016.

The charity’s experience on the Holnicote Estate, Exmoor, suggests that natural flood defences can help reduce flooding downstream. Tree planting and the recreation of water meadows was one factor in preventing the villages of Allerford and Bossington from flooding during Storm Angus in November.

In Ullswater the National Trust has worked with a tenant farmer to restore 180m of a straightened river channel to its natural state. The lowered banks will allow floodwater to be stored on water meadow.

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