It has been two years. When we first bought the woods, water would flow in a stream down our ditch for most of the year, just drying up in September and October, before the rains came again in the winter. Our well had water in for the whole year. Our ponds stayed within six or eight inches of the top for the whole year without any intervention. Our drainage trench across the clearing was actually needed, and provided security for trees that were affected by waterlogging of their roots. Our rainwater tank provided enough water for the greenhouse, and vegetable beds, and we didn’t need anything else.
But then it stopped raining. We all remember the drought of 2011, but 2010 was also a dry year, and 2009 had rainfall below average too. The last time we had any flow in our ditch was a brief flurry at the melting of the snow, but the last regular flow was in early 2010. The rains did not come in 2010, and they did not come in 2011 either, and the ditch has been dry for a very long time. Long enough for the rabbits to forget that it was once a stream and to dig holes lower down.
The first ponds we dug, near our entrance, needed topping up in 2010, and all but dried up completely in 2011, with our main, deep pond, being reduced in depth by almost 3 feet, to a small muddy puddle. Our complicated engineering to ensure flow through the series of ponds and into the ditch seemed rather pointless. We could not see the ponds filling up again. We fought a losing battle to keep a remnant for the wildlife in 2011. Even the three ponds created from a pre-existing pond lower down in the woods were reduced to a couple of tiny puddles. We feared for the wildlife and the future of our greater duckweed.
We spent a lot of time and money constructing a drainage ditch to remove water from an area where the oak trees were put at risk by waterlogging, taking water across our clearing, and into our ponds and ditch. This has been completely dry for more than two years. We were beginning to think it was a waste of effort.
Our new ponds in Betty’s Wood were constructed in one of the few rainy months in the last two years, February 2011. But even then, there was not much water, and although they remained wet throughout the summer of 2011, providing much needed water for the young trees, the complicated series of overflows designed to prevent flooding seemed rather spurious. One didn’t fill at all, the other emptied in August, and it looked as it our design for wet woodland, meadows and ponds was not going to work.
But the rain has come. For the first time, we have had proper, sustained rain. Our ditch is flowing with a good volume of water, a proper stream, which has surprised some of our rabbits and their flooded homes. Our well is full. Water is pouring into our stream from the farmland across the road too, via a land drain. The culvert under our bridge is once again in use. Our lower ponds are full and overflowing. Our upper ponds are full and water is flowing through them into the ditch, and our drainage ditch is again in operation.
Betty’s Wood ponds are testing the water engineering which, by and large, is working, and is not redundant after all. The willow and alder are happy with wet feet again. Our bog is boggy again.
In short, we have got our woods back – those lovely, damp, water-filled woods. How much we have missed the noise of water flowing through the ditch. How much we have missed needing to wear wellies! How much we have forgotten just how big our ponds are!
It may not be quite so nice going outside in the rain, but it has transformed our lovely woodlands, and we hope it keeps raining, just a bit, all through the summer. Water makes our woodlands special. We need it, everywhere.
With apologies for photos on iPhone rather than proper camera – I forgot to put a card in the camera, so phone was all I had with me!