Flooding in South Yorkshire

Flooding in South Yorkshire – dramatic images and environmental context

We’ve just received a dramatic set of images of the River Don flooding around Fishlake in South Yorkshire. David Woodfall, who took the pictures, has documented flooding in recent years at various sites across England. We asked him to describe the experience of shooting these picture and  the impact of floods on the local people. Also, he told us more about the wider environmental questions of water management and climate change.

How was the experience of viewing the flooding around Fishlake from the air?

“The experience of the flooding from the air was extremely distressing. It immediately made me realise the vulnerability of life and how little it takes for a catastrophe like this to happen. As I took these photographs from the air, Boris Johnson was on the ground talking to local people made homeless. For me, it isn’t about politics – the natural world and our life on this planet are far bigger issues than politics and ought to be given a much greater priority.”

 How difficult was it actually getting images of the flooding in South Yorkshire?

“Documenting chaos is all down to planning and adaptability. Local people made me aware in the local pub about the causes of the flood, where it was and how to reach it safely. I always work through local people. Establishing trust and not expecting too much are key, then striking immediately when the great opportunity comes. In this case I was fortunate to be able to access a helicopter flight in some of the best light I have had over years of documenting similar issues.

I took aerial photos of the Somerset and Upton-on-Severn floods  in 2014 and the managed retreat of the Steart Marshes in 2015. On the second day I was there, about 3 inches of rain fell, so I had to wear chest waders. I was made very welcome by local people who admired me going out in difficult conditions. The Haxey Gate Inn kept me fed and watered!”

Can you describe how the flooding was impacting on local people, businesses and agriculture?

“All the straw and silage from the summer was ruined. I saw fuel oil everywhere in farmyards and river courses. The lorry park was under water, with all vehicles flooded and many villagers’ cars were write-offs . The village name Fishlake suggests water and it lies immediately alongside the River Don. Both Fishlake and Bentley were devastated. Local people seemed resigned but shell-shocked. Their strong sense of community kept their spirits up, and I found them really co-operative.“

How was the mood of the local people, after the flooding in South Yorkshire?

“They seemed very stressed, very angry, and yet at the same time calm and resilient.”

What are your thoughts on the wider issue of river, water and flood management in the UK?

The cause of this problem seems to not having serviced a pump-house near West Stockwith. This should have happened in the summer but it was actually being serviced in early November when the heavy rain began. So there was only one operational pump to cope with a month’s rain in under 24 hours. People told me that the local authority had not cleared out the local streams and watercourses regularly. What’s more, they failed to bring sand bags when they were needed. Looking at the bigger picture, the planting of the slopes of the Peak District and more holistic ecological thinking could have easily prevented something like this.

My recent book Rewilding in Britain and Ireland show many examples of how practical conservation projects on the ground can have a massive impact on ecology and help galvanise local communities. Hatfield Moor National Nature Reserve, 3 miles to the east, is a wonderful example of how to use water to regenerate peatlands, aid carbon capture and help combat climate change.”

 Is this a wake-up call about the issue of climate change and the increased frequency of “extreme weather events”?

“It has to be a wake-up call, otherwise all the suffering will be in vain. The wider issue of water needs to be dealt with. We will need to adapt very quickly if we are to continue living on this tiny island.”

What could be done to improve the situation in the longer term?

“We need 24 hour staff on stand-by, more education and involvement of local communities. How about a home guard of water wardens? Local authorities need to carry out their statutory role in maintaining local streams and water bodies. We all need to work much more as a community on this issue. There should also be local, national and international plans, co-ordinated and implemented as soon as possible.”