As I write, mid-January, I am looking out on yet more rain and in these parts there is considerable flooding all over the area. Readers will, no doubt, have listened to the ongoing debate regarding dredging and general river / water maintenance. On the one hand the Department for the Environment is claiming it makes little or no difference and on the other hand many of the unfortunate flood victims are claiming that lack of dredging and general maintenance has contributed considerably to the present, unusual, levels of flooding. You pays your money and takes your choice, as they say, but I know who I believe!
In any event all of this got me thinking about flooding in and around Kingsley during my childhood. Although I don’t recall dates or even years in which flooding occurred, occur it did. As far as I am aware there were no properties involved when this happened, it was fields that were covered with the water. When flooding occurs it is due to a prolonged period of heavy rain, the ground becomes saturated, water flows into the valleys where the rivers are and the rivers fill up and break their banks. All pretty standard stuff, however, as far as Kingsley was concerned and the river beyond the village, which runs all the way from Oakhanger down through the mill and on to, and beyond, Sleaford, it was dredged. In those days it was the River Authority which was responsible for the task and this took the form of a largish crane spending several weeks travelling the length of the river. The crane cut the sides of the river and hauled out any silt or other obstructions from within the flow. The stuff removed was distributed evenly along the tops of the banks or, when necessary, removed altogether. As far as I can recall, this process took place every two or three years . What this achieved was free flowing water, which unimpeded by obstruction, quickly made its way down stream and away.
Whilst the fields along the rivers route became flooded to a depth of a foot or two, this situation did not last for very long. As soon as the rain stopped the water quickly receded. The meadows either side of the river were referred to as water meadows and the fact that they flooded periodically was well known and managed accordingly. I would venture to suggest, had dredging not taken place, and the river left with all the build- up of obstructions that naturally occur during the course of each year, the problem of the flooding would have been considerably more. The backlog of water would have been much greater and, therefore, the area covered much wider and the time it took to recede much longer. None of which is rocket science. In addition to all of this, unlike modern trends, it would have been unthinkable to have considered building upon the areas known for flooding.
When the areas at the back of Fir Hill flooded, albeit for shortish periods, the waters became a magnet for all sorts of water birds especially ducks. Mallards, Teal, Tufted, Sheldrake and the occasional Pochard could all be seen in the area. I always found it quite amazing how these birds would appear almost overnight and then disappear just as quickly. As well as the duck quite large numbers of waders were also attracted to the area and these spent their time in the shallower waters at the edges of the floods. They remained for some time after the water went down, no doubt, attracted by the rich feeding opportunities provided by the floods throughout the water meadows.
When the river areas flooded it was also normal for the fields along Alice Holt Forest down towards Frith End to experience light flooding. This, no doubt, due to the fact the belt of heavy clay along that stretch prevented surface water draining into the soil. But again the great difference between now and then is the fact that the farm ditches were kept in good order and contributed greatly to water dispersal. Ditching was then an autumn occupation and farm workers spend weeks cleaning out their ditch systems. Make no mistake about it, the farmers of those days did not dig and maintain ditches for the fun of it or because they liked the look of them. Quite simply they did it because it made good practical sense. Their fields drained and the ability to get on to them was ensured by good ditches and good practise and, for the most part, the work was done by hand. I suppose ditches don’t get the attention they used to because overall farming practises have changed dramatically. It does, however, seem strange when all sorts of modern, high tech machinery is available to do the old tasks in half the time and yet so many no longer bother. Progress? perhaps.