Over the stable door: Praying for less pain after major flood-proofing

Jo Foster hopes land management measures will prevent her land from suffering as badly as it did last winter when flooding affected farmland across the region. Pic: Tim Ireland/PA Wire
Jo Foster hopes land management measures will prevent her land from suffering as badly as it did last winter when flooding affected farmland across the region. Pic: Tim Ireland/PA Wire
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I’m on the way back from Kelso racecourse and grappling with stomach pains.

Having set off in good time to avoid being stuck in the notoriously slow A1 traffic, we arrived in time to grab some lunch at the friendly Borders track. I wolfed down a chicken salad before heading off to prepare the horse.

An hour later as I attempted to saddle my runner I was hit with violent stomach pains which had me bent double. Leading up was a far from pleasant sight to watch. I was hoping I could walk the pains off as I shuffled along but instead I broke into a cold sweat.

“Just let the horse go before you’re sick,” I kept telling myself. I was getting some odd looks.

Fortunately, as the lagging leader-up horse and jockey headed towards the track the symptoms passed. I hoped it was a fleeting blip in my day. So it seemed fine until we headed away in the horsebox.

The sweats returned just outside Coldstream and by Wooler village I had to make an emergency dash to find cover through the nearest gateway. I apologies to the farmer whose Texel sheep were scared by the sight of me bringing up my lunch in the corner of their field. I do feel a little better for it though.

How many of us can say with confidence we are prepared for another winter like the last one? The ceaseless depressing rainfall is something I would rather not remember but fear it may become more frequent with the warm, wet winter weather seemingly a result of global warming.

On the farm we suffered the worst floods in 50 years. It may have caused us plenty of damage but little in comparison to the thousands whose lives were ruined by the weather.

Many people are still waiting to return to normality. A friend from Penrith suffered when the river flooded his home. The downstairs was stood in 6ft of water for almost a week before it subsided. It will take over a year before the place is dry enough for them to inhabit again. Apparently they are living in an upstairs bedroom with a microwave for now.

We can’t stop the rain falling but we can alleviate some of the affects it has on the land, our daily routine and livelihood.

Many of our fields were under water for weeks due to the streams and ditches flooding so we were active in some long overdue repair work earlier this year. New drains were dug, a 100-year-old bridge has been replaced and widened, overgrown vegetation that blocked the water’s route have been cleared and all the fencing has been replaced.

The bullock’s daily entertainment was to ransack whatever job we were undertaking. The huge piles of brambles and thistles, stacks of fencing posts and the numerous machines were all fully investigated, licked, rubbed, trampled and, if possible, dragged across the field.

Tris and my father spent days clearing out ditches and in the process of moving tonnes of mud and sand they disturbed a few eels lurking in the silty ditch bottoms.

We added a wide stone pathway too, allowing easier access across the stream so vehicles and horses no longer have to battle the mud in winter. No more getting stuck and waiting to be towed out when there’s a downpour. That sounds like utter luxury to me.