The Impacts of Flooding on Wildlife

How will the recent storms and floods have affected our wildlife?

Our Estates manager James Hitchcock was interviewed on BBC Hereford & Worcester this morning discussing the effects of the flooding on wildlife. The impacts are many and diverse but a few key issues:

The volume of water running through our rivers may wash out fish and their fry who can become stranded when the water recedes. The storms will also have washed a great deal of sediment into rivers which reduces the oxygen levels – unsuitable habitat for fish, such as salmon, to spawn. Otters and other wetland mammals will also have been displaced and will be struggling.

It’s bad news for many invertebrates, many of which overwinter as pupae or caterpillars. Many are likely to have been washed away and this will severely impact their already declining numbers. Small mammals such as hedgehogs, mice and voles will also have been pushed out of their homes (or quite possibly drowned). As these make up the diet of larger species, such as barn owls, we may well see a knock-on effect throughout the food web.

While floodplain meadows such as the Lugg Meadow at Tupsley usually thrive with occasional flooding, this level of water, for so long, is not good news. The meadows have been inundated with debris, including high nutrient status sediment and this can increase the numbers of docks and thistle and lower the numbers of our rarer wildflowers. If the meadows remain underwater into the spring curlew and other floodplain species may struggle to find enough food for chicks.

And, if floods do persist into spring then physical habitat loss occurs through hedgerows and scrub being inundated, limited nesting opportunities for birds such as yellow hammer.

What can we do?

The key solutions to minimise impacts are long-term natural flood management, planting trees in our uplands and slowing the flow of water through the landscape, and keeping active floodplains – not building on this area of land.

It’s likely extreme weather will become more common as a result of the climate crisis so anything we can do at an individual, county or national level to reduce our carbon use and develop sustainable ways to live and work must be prioritised.