It feels strange when your life becomes part of the news. The day after the flood I drove up to Pond Cottage to check for damage. As Ray and I had expected the cottage got off lightly but the landscape looked like a jigsaw puzzle that hadn’t been put together properly. Some familiar pieces were in the wrong place – Ray’s boat had been lifted out of the pond and dumped on the bank – and a few strange landmarks had been jammed in willy nilly. So there was a brand new lake in the neighbouring field and several tons of hardcore on the front lawn which is why I drove straight into a crater where the road used to be.
Waiting to be rescued by Jimmy, the local JCB driver, who built the road for us in the first place I couldn’t believe I had been so stupid. (The hole is bigger and deeper than you can see from the photo.) But I guess it was like getting up in the morning expecting your feet will find the floorboards where they left them the night before.
We were lucky. Some people in the village lost their floors and furniture as well. One young couple were faced with the prospect of having to rebuild the house they had only just finished in time for the arrival of their new baby.
I was very pleased to see Jimmy. He is a kind man and as he lay in water hooking a steel rope to my tow bar he even managed to make me feel that anyone could drive into a hole in the road. Then we stood and marvelled at the even bigger holes the flood had gouged out of the pond bank. Jimmy, who is built like a mountain, said almost admiringly, “Amazing, the power of water.”
Our cottage was saved by the wetland that allowed flood waters to spread and a deep channel that carries the stream away from the sluice. Even so the water must have risen five feet creating a forceful new river that overflowed the bridge and ripped through the garden before ploughing on through the field.
BBC and newspaper reports made much of the fact that a new flood prevention scheme had only just been put in place in Milnathort at a cost of £500,000. I did not hear one report mention the new Scottish law that now requires local authorities to promote sustainable flood management (SFM in the trade) which very broadly speaking means restoring natural defences of wetlands and floodplains instead of building concrete walls.
With nice timing, news of the Milnathort flood broke just as I was doing some new work with WWF Scotland on sustainable flood management. It is a fascinating and frustrating story. Scotland is leading the way in trying to implement a European directive which requires all member states to look at rivers as dynamic ecosystems (rather than inconvenient channels running through the floodplain developments we have become so good at building). In fact Scotland is the first UK country to turn the Water Framework Directive into law (see more about that here) with an act requiring local authorities to promote sustainable alternatives to concrete floodwalls which tend to push the problem downstream. With climate change concrete is likely to become an increasingly costly and pointless defence – as Milnathort shows. But policy and practice have yet to catch up with the law. (Look out for WWF Scotland’s two new publications early in the new year).