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20 December 2012 | Posted in Fran Southgate , Wetland , Woods Mill

Author Fran Southgate

Flooding at Woods Mill / Fran Southgate
Flooding at Woods Mill / Fran Southgate

I’m sitting at my desk, contemplating if I’ll make it home tonight through the Noah’s ark style floods that are building up outside. Its been raining non stop through the night, and the ground is saturated from weeks of winter rain. The summer drought is well and truly over, and springs which have been dry for years are bursting out of the ground everywhere.

Already the flooding at Woods Mill Nature Reserve is lapping up the garden path. The rain that fell a few hours ago is still working its way through the river system, so whatever we see now is going to get much worse as the water builds up behind a rising tide. All the rain which has fallen over vast areas of Sussex is now trying to work its way through small bridges and narrow culverts which we have put in its way. The countryside is saturated. No matter how much we hate it, its going to flood.

Our Mill pond water level has risen 10 centimetres in an hour!! And the road outside our Woods Mill Nature Reserve is so underwater that even the van drivers are starting to look scared about trying to get through it. At this point, people get scared and want someone to blame for causing the flood.

We are already receiving phone calls saying that the Wildlife Trust have caused the flood on the road, but the reality is quite the opposite. We have done our best to help limit the flood damage by opening up our land so that it can absorb as much flood water as possible rather than sending it flowing down the river – unfortunately our land is now ‘flood full’. Many landowners on our rivers have done the same as us, and no matter how bad the flood is now, it would have been a lot worse if they hadn’t provided thousands of acres of land to temporarily store water rather than letting it hit our houses and roads.

Unfortunately, we only have ourselves to blame for some of the floods we experience these days. Most flooding is a natural phenomenon that happens after a lot of rain, but years of knowingly building houses on floodplains makes thousands of people more vulnerable as weather patterns become more extreme.

We have created vast areas of concrete and hard surfaces which are impenetrable to rain. Imagine how much water is flowing off your roof down your guttering right now? Multiply that by over a million buildings in Sussex, and then add in all the paved gardens, tarmacked roads, industrial estates etc. All this water is flowing at high speed, straight into our drainage systems which hits the river in large volumes all at one time. Natural habitats such as trees and wetlands would help absorb and buffer the falling rain and would soak it up and slow it down, thus limiting the speed and impact of the flood.

This flood is going to be big. Short term, the only thing we can do is to try not to travel, help our neighbours if their house is flooding and hope that it stops raining soon. Long term, we can start using a lot more water butts, create a lot more washland and wetland flood storage areas in our countryside, and try to reduce the run off, sewage and drain flows coming from our urban areas. Oh yes, and stop building in floodplains!

Flooding on Woods Mill nature reserve / Sue Curnock
Flooding on Woods Mill nature reserve / Sue Curnock


  • 02 Jan 2013 08:01:18

    I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. As green roof and drainage specialists ABG have been advocating green roofs as blue roofs for water storage since 2002. Greening roofs would go a long way to mitigating the effects of a changed climate.

  • molly gledhill:

    02 Jan 2013 12:30:44

    How right you are. For one, the flood plain round Steyning has been built on some years ago in spite of warnings. People have themselves to blame too often. In towns, gardens are paved over so the car can be parked or just for convenience to save work. Where can the rainfall go? Down the drain and up again!

  • Ed Richardson:

    05 Jan 2013 16:04:39

    Great article. You could perhaps have also mentioned the persistent burning of fossil fuels and the crazy idea of going to extremes to use up even more (tar sands, Arctic exploration, deep sea drilling, fracking etc)

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