Keep up to date with river levels

May 7, 2011

My local stream

You can keep up to date with the levels in your local river – well, some of them – without even getting up from your computer.

For England and Wales: look here.

For Scotland: look here.

I haven’t found a site doing this for Northern Ireland yet.


As predicted yesterday…

May 7, 2011

As I said yesterday, if writing loads about the drought wouldn’t start it raining, nothing would.

And so it came to pass. (Perhaps this piece in the Telegraph helped too…)

This morning the shallow half of the New Pond – previously completely dry – now has a couple of centimetres of water.

And I caught three quarters of a butt of water too.

The effects of the drought on freshwater life (and other drought stories)

May 6, 2011

MORE DROUGHT STUFF THAN YOU CAN SHAKE A STICK AT: The European Drought Centre, including this rather pretty updated map of how dry soils are all over Europe: for once, GB seems to be leading Europe.

UPDATE: Environment Agency current water status report: basically, calm down chaps (4 May 2011).

UPDATE: Leicestershire strawberry farmer’s weather fears (hmmm…this is getting silly).

UPDATE: Cameron to discuss farmer drought fears.

UPDATE: Worcestershire wetlands flooded after dry spell. Hope they checked the quality of the reservoir water first – I’d think twice about putting such potentially polluted water in my nature reserve.

UPDATE: Those with an appetite for historical detail might like to read: The 1975-76 Drought – a contemporary and retrospective review, recently published by CEH.

The Fowl's Pill in Oxfordshire is one of the country's best ponds: its wonderful wildlife depends on the combination of drying out in summer and outstandingly clean water. This is how it looked in July 2010.

With an unusually warm spring, and the weather still dry, I’ll be rounding-up the effects of the developing drought on freshwater life.

The prevailing view is that it’s automatically going to be bad news – but it’s nothing like as simple as this, not least because some of our most important watery wildlife sites are places that dry out regularly, and maybe half of all freshwater plants and animals tolerate or actually require drought.

Because droughts are perfectly natural events, and even climate warming looks to be having winners and losers, there’s a complicated story to unravel.

So far we have stories on:

– Fairy Shrimps, which are temporary pond specialists, having a topsy-turvy, but apparently successful, year. There’ll be more about this in the next few days in the Pond Conservation spring newsletter.

– Dragonflies being especially early in Oxfordshire this year and also in Northamptonshire as reported by Mark Tyrell on the BDS site reports where he said “10 species recorded [as adults] in April in the County, a new record.”

– Exceptionally early spawning of Sea Lamprey in the R. Teifi in Wales, at the start of May. Tristan Hatton-Ellis of the Countryside Council for Wales comments:

Sea lampreys generally spawn in summer, so spawning this early is likely [to be] a response to high water temperatures caused by low flows and warm weather. Other sightings would be welcome: please send them to your local records centre as well so we get a better picture of the distribution of this species, which we think is under-recorded in Wales.”

See pictures here: taken by Colin Chapman of the Teifi Rivers Trust.

– An exceptional display of Water-violets at a key Oxfordshire site (pictures coming later today).

– Shallow garden ponds needing a regular top up to get the tadpoles through to metamorphosis. My Old Pond has had one major top up so far: luckily I’ve got about 4 water butts full still to get me through until June time, even if it never rains again!

– April hottest in recent history: on the Beeb website here.

And the Daily Mail has been keeping close watch on some of the more eye-catching events as the ‘Wettest place in Britain has suddenly become the driest after no rainfall for a month‘ providing a neat picture of a short length of the River Derwent in the Lake District that has dried out.

They also couldn’t resist pictures of the ‘official’ source of the Thames having dried up – although there’s nothing really surprising about this as the headwaters of all rivers move up and down depending on the weather.

And there are low flows in quite a few rivers now: the latest data from the Environment Agency can be seen here:

And for a global perspective today:

All this prompts the inevitable call for a water grid:

Do let me know of any more interesting stories.

And if that doesn’t make it rain, nothing will.


April 22 2011: Thames Water testing drought busting desalination plant – no hosepipe bans here, please!

The early dragonfly catches the….err, attention of wildlife lovers?

May 2, 2011

Looks like it could be an early spring for dragonflies.

Steve Burch wrote this to the Oxon birders blog:

As some of you may have noticed, the recent fine and warm weather has had an amazing effect on the dragonflies and damselflies in Oxfordshire. By the end of April, there have been records of at least eleven species:

  • Common Clubtail
  • Hairy Dragonfly
  • Downy Emerald
  • Four spotted Chaser
  • Broad bodied Chaser
  • Banded Demoiselle
  • Common Blue Damselfly
  • Azure Damselfly
  • Blue-tailed Damselfly
  • Large Red Damselfly
  • Red eyed Damselfly

This total must be without recent precedent at least. Last year for example there had only been sightings of two species by the end of April. Many of the above don’t usually emerge until well into May or even June!

There’s more info on Steve’ site at:

In the garden my first Large Red’s emerged this year from the Old Pond on the 25 April; last year the first were on 9th May, exactly two weeks later.

Out in the ‘wild’ there’s a fantastic display of Water-violet on one of our very best ponds: the Fowl’s Pill on Otmoor in Oxfordshire (it’s one of the Pond Conservation home page circulating lead pictures at the moment). Water-violet normally flowers in May but must have been blooming for a fortnight already at this pond.

Maybe it’s an early year for life in water generally? Anyone seen any other early events?

Who’d be a tadpole?

May 1, 2011

Larva of a great diving beetle feeding on a frog tadpole.

A common question we get at this time of the year is: “Where have my tadpoles gone?”

A common answer is probably provided by this picture from Pond Conservation member Carole Woodall who managed to capture what must be a common fate for many a tadpole. Indeed, it’s probably one of the main fates that nature intended!

And this is not the only way that our precious tadpoles get gobbled up: fish of course are regular frog tadpole eaters and so, to the surprise of many, are our innocent looking newts.

Now of course, almost every normal person loves newts – but not your average tadpole because a tadpole is basically a tasty newt snack.

A common course of events is:

– Pond lover makes pond, frogs arrive in year 1 or 2, pond lover very happy.

– Newts arrive in year 4 or 5, pond lover even happier.

– Tadpoles disappear, pond lover puzzled, calls Pond Conservation.

– Frog and newt lover discovers newts eat tadpoles and realises newts not quite so cuddly as previously thought.

– Pond lover becomes older and slightly wiser!

But it’s not all one-way traffic: our clever little frogs have learnt (excuse the anthropomorphism) to steer clear of the nasty newts, and other predators.

Tadpoles can sense the presence of backswimmers and dragonfly larvae, and take avoiding action.

They can also sense fish too.

Although many may still perish, if you are one of the few that gets through, that’s all that matters.

Why doesn’t World Water Monitoring Day include ponds?

March 13, 2011

If you want to feel slightly depressed about the future for water check out this site:

There are about 300 million  ponds worldwide.

In countries where we have good data, ponds support a higher proportion of freshwater wildlife than river or lakes (though, of course, both are seriously imperilled).

So its surprising to find that this education and outreach programme doesn’t mention ponds as one of the habitats you can monitor: it lists ‘any lake, stream, bay, or other waterbody’ – but why not your pond?

The whole programme is depressing: with children being asked to repeat the collection of pointless measurements which, I’ve no doubt, in many cases they could get online from the nearest regulatory body. And of course the data – though written into glossy reports – are completely meaningless.

Ah, you’ll say, but that’s not the point – this is an education and outreach programme. Yes, and that’s exactly what’s so depressing about it. Teaching children worldwide to use largely meaningless tests and reaching spurious conclusions.

Why only rivers?

February 12, 2011

I notice here that the Environment Agency has put out a leaflet we’ve all paid for asking people in the Norwich area to protect rivers.

Obviously commendable.

But why only rivers? Why not the rest of the water environment too?

The area covered by the leaflet has hundreds (maybe thousands) of ponds, lots of important lakes (the Broads) and some of our most important freshwater ditch systems. There’s a high chance these support more of the regions freshwater biodiversity than the rivers.

Improving rivers like the Wensum (which is important and pretty badly damaged) is going to be the toughest, expensive and most difficult – maybe impossible – part of the Agency’s work.

So they should also talk about the rest of the freshwater environment, which is as important, may be easier to care for and which they have a duty to protect. The smaller waters probably play a vital role in the other ‘services’ provided by freshwater.

The Agency has a duty to implement the Water Framework Directive, which is supposed to protect the whole of the water environment: the leaflet looks odd seen in that light.

Arrival of spring on BBC Nature Blog

February 9, 2011

The BBC Nature Blog has picked up the frog story.

Frogs as a sign of spring (and a small correction)

February 8, 2011

Just in case anyone’s looking at letters in the papers, it was, of course, a slip of the pen to say ‘frogs’ are mostly vegetarian.

I meant frog tadpoles (and there was a bit of poetic license in downplaying the meat eating tendencies as they get bigger!).

First frogspawn? I was way behind the times

February 7, 2011

Jon at ARG UK has passed on the real first record!

An earlier report of frogspawn this year was from Bernard Hocking (8th Jan) – Reported on the Cornish Wildlife Group.

Check it on my Twitter account.

And as ‘any fule kno’ – the real place to look is here: