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“It’s going to be a hard year ahead for our kingfishers.” Environment manager at the Trust, Jonathan Hart-Woods, talks about the impact of the Boxing Day floods on waterway wildlife.

Kingfisher perched on branch Kingfisher

Jonathan Hart-Woods, environment manager at the Trust, saw the floods on TV and also first hand from his home which is situated between the River Aire and the River Wharfe outside Leeds.

It was clear that the rivers had burst their banks. I’ve never actually seen the Aire up so high before. At Esholt I saw people pulling up in their cars at the side of the road to have a look. The canal and river had both broken their banks and were flooding fields that had never been floded before. My first thought was, what has this done to the canals?

Pollution levels always play a part in a flooding situation. You get the surface water run off from surrounding roads and fields, as well as any larger pollution incidents such as sewage. You can see the silt and the litter in the water and in the vegetation with your own eyes.  

A lot of waterway birds are going to find it difficult to feed. Kingfishers and herons need clear water to feed in, which they haven’t got right now as the water is all churned up. Our aquatic plants have all been disturbed, and that will have a ripple effect throughout the ecosystem of the waterway.

Only a small percentage of young kingfishers survive every year, but they are going to find it especially hard this year. As well as the issues with feeding, we’re also going to find that some traditional nesting sites will have been washed away with the flooding. Kingfishers are territorial and like to return to the same nesting sites year after year, but that just wont be possible for them now.

Otters will also have been affected. The fast river flows caused by the flooding may well have caught out any young otters who couldn’t get themselves to safety.

Ground-dwellers such as badgers and foxes may also have been trapped by rising flood waters which could have flooded their setts and dens.

It’s difficult to say what the long term impact on the environment will be. In some areas the water is still too high to tell. We need the water level to go down on the Pocklington Canal and the navigable Ouse before we can make any proper assessments and plans. It’s not all bad news for our wildlife though. Dabbling ducks such as mallards will actually do very well out of the flooding as their feeding area has temporarily increased.  

Last date edited: 4 March 2016