Draining the Land
The articles below have appeared in the past in the Village Magazine. They give information about the work of The Drainage Board and how the water level is controlled around Kingston Seymour.
DRAINING KINGSTON (Magazine article written by Gill Harris in 2008)*
The recent heavy rains and flooding around the country have focused attention on a service normally taken for granted in the village – controlling the water from the surrounding catchment area of 101 sq.km. (25,000 acres). In October for example we had 192mm. of rain. That’s nineteen million cubic metres to cope with, or if you prefer, four billion gallons. All that water has to flow through the 4,856ha. of land below the 50’ contour that makes up the jurisdiction of the (old) North Somerset Internal Drainage Board. For those of you who have moved into the village more recently (and an aide memoire for the rest!), I thought this was an appropriate time to tell you something about the Board.
The control of flooding by the community dates back to 1252, when Commissioners were established to control flood protection and land drainage in Romney Marsh, Kent. Other bodies were later established in low lying, high flood risk areas, notably in Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Somerset and South Yorkshire. The bishops and monks then played a huge role, especially on the Somerset Levels.
Following a Royal Commission in 1928, the 1930 Land Drainage Act brought all the various private Acts of Parliament together. The latest modification is the 1994 Act. Today 230 IDBs and Commissioners administer some one and a quarter million hectares (3m. acres) of such vulnerable parts of the country.
The initial legislation was driven by agriculture and food production. Today, much of the work being carried out by the drainage authorities is to protect urban areas at risk from flooding or to accommodate the increased run-off from new developments. This is particularly so in North Somerset, which is now covered by the North Somerset Levels I.D.B., [previously West Mendip (the Weston area), North Somerset (our patch) and Gordano Valley. They merged in 2013].
The Board is made up of a number of lay members, usually farmers, and district councillors, in proportion to the land area and the degree of urbanisation. Nigel Cole is the board member in Kingston. Roland Griffin and Roy Wallis have also served on the North Somerset Board [as did Frank Kingcott, Doug Jones and. Phil Harris]. For some time, the office was in the old school building, until Renee Kingcott moved in with her spinners and weavers. It then moved to Mendip View Farm when Gill Harris became Clerk, then finally to Rose Cottage. The Chairman is Bernard Grey who farms at Nailsea, and David Crossman of Yatton is the Viewer.
The Board meets bimonthly. It sets an annual rate that we all pay, householders a nominal one paid through their council tax and farmers and landowners one based on acreage, paid direct to the Board. A proportion of this rate goes straight to the Environment Agency for its control of the main rivers and tidal defences. The remainder, the Board uses to maintain the rhyne system that is so familiar to us in Kingston Seymour.
David and I have the day to day control of the Board’s activities. In October, that meant disposing of four billion gallons of rainwater by gravity alone through just seven outlets, three of which are in the village, into an estuary that has the second highest tidal range in the world! Once the tide reaches the top of the sluices or tidal flaps at Treble House, Milleaze and Yeo Bank, the rhynes ‘pen’, you ‘phone me in distress because the water levels start to rise, and there’s not a thing we can do until the earth rotates and the moon pulls the Atlantic away. At high tides (+/- 14m./40ft.) the pen lasts longer, particularly when a storm from the south west is shunting the sea up the Severn Estuary. The peak tide on Dec.13th. 1981, our last tidal flood, lasted for one and a half hours and was combined with a tidal surge of one metre. This tidal pen happens twice daily, 365 days per year, and those of us living in a floodplain would do well to remember it! But rest assured, while the moors inland were regularly submerged under water, it is beyond living memory since Kingston suffered any fluvial flooding.
In the summer months the hatches are dropped and the rhynes are penned at an artificially high level to act as wet fencing and drinking for livestock. Weed growth can choke a channel very quickly, so is removed regularly, a process known as keetching. Summer floods can be disastrous for farmers, so the Viewer has a particularly sensitive balancing act to play, allowing water into the system from the freshwater Congresbury Yeo and releasing it into the tidal section downstream of Yeo Bank Farm at Tutshill Sluice. The winter months allow for maintenance work to be carried out, especially where silting has occurred, bridges have fallen in and overhanging vegetation needs to be cleared. There is increasing pressure from the conservation lobby to maintain higher water levels through the winter. This has the effect of reducing flood storage capacity, but as all Boards in the Wessex E.A. region draw-up their Water Level Management Plans it is just one of a number of measures we must address. Trimming alternate banks rather than a complete ‘short back and sides’ is another aspect of the newer thinking to encourage wildlife.
So next time our keetching activities interrupt you, or we ask for a gout (piped bridge) to be rebuilt, or we think your conservation bullrushes need to go – spare a thought for those four billion gallons. Poor drainage affects us all.
FLOODING (Magazine Article written by John Harris in March 2014)
Flooding comes in a variety of guises. In our case the tidal version has to be our main concern, closely followed by fluvial from the rhynes and ditches. Pluvial is a localised flood usually from ‘cloudbursts’, as at Boscastle for example [and blocked storm drains, of which we have none]. The South West has a much higher rate of these storms than the rest of the country. The other much less common source of flooding is groundwater. This is a huge problem in Wiltshire at the moment; the aquifer is at full capacity, so the water literally comes up through the floor.
In the Parish Council report you will note items concerning impending improvements to the sea defences on the River Yeo, and our letter of thanks to the Internal Drainage Board for its work over the years.
There is an interesting breakdown of North Somerset Council’s 2014/15 spend that accompanied our Council Tax notification recently. Based on a Band D property, levies of £1.92 go to the Environment Agency and £3.26 to the I.D.B. [Landowners pay considerably more – approx. £6.00/acre]. With £5.2m earmarked for the Yeo banks, and dry feet throughout this incredibly wet winter – a bargain for which we should all be grateful.
Rural Husbandry (Article from the Village Magazine in March 2009)
I admit it. I love hills and mountains. But born and bred in Kingston, I do appreciate our low lying landscape. We live on a layer of clay overlying thick peat, two metres below the mean high tide. At low tide we let gravity take its course draining the surplus water aided by the activities of the North Somerset Internal Drainage Board.
The Board maintains the network of rhynes by keetching the weed growth in the summer and clearing blockages such as fallen trees, caved in culverts and cattle pounds in the winter. We all pay for this work – householders as a nominal charge through their council tax and landowners according to the size of their holding.
Feeding that river/rhyne arterial drainage system are the ditches. Miles and miles of ditches. Under every good hedge in Kingston is a ditch! But there is no IDB for ditches. The responsibility lies with the riparian owner. Over time, say 20-30 years, a ditch silts up and needs “pulling”,” slubbing out” – or just plain “ditching”.
And that’s what is happening on Jean Wither’s old fields. Richard and Anita Simmons are doing what should have been done some time ago to that whole block of land between Back Lane and the motorway. The hedges will regrow – within three years – they’ve only been coppiced. Whether they become overgrown and inadvertently act as a screen is another matter.
As for the rhynes, many visitors to the village comment on the uninterrupted views afforded during their weekend strolls around the lanes.
It’s all a matter of good husbandry, drainage and flood defence. The views (or lack of!) are a bonus.
SLUBBING-OUT (Article from the Village Magazine in January 2011)
Didn’t you always want to know all about slubbing-out? Well now’s your chance.
The North Somerset Drainage Board has decided that the silt has built-up in Ham Rhyne so much that it is hampering the flow. The section from the church to the Yeo Bank Lane junction is soon to be dredged; John Tucker & Son have been awarded the contract. Experienced as they are, there will inevitably be some inconvenience, but the mess will be minimised by spreading the spoil on adjacent land. À la Nile delta, it is very rich stuff.
Depending on the weather and ground condYitions, the Board hopes to carry out this maintenance work in February/March.
So impress your city friends at dinner parties and tell them all about slubbing-out in Kingston (not far removed from Wassailing is it?)
THE PARISH COUNCIL AND THE IDB SHALL BE FRIENDS (Unknown accreditation)
He had lived in the village for 29 years; been a Parish Councillor for 17; a pillar of the community. But he didn’t know the difference between a ditch and a rhyne. The article in the parish magazine made no difference. The handout sent to all new drainage rate payers made no difference. Not even the personal visit.
Out of sheer frustration, my husband (a farmer and a long term councillor) and I volunteered to give the Council a conducted tour of the village to explain first hand what drainage and flood control entails.
With a large scale map spread out in the village hall meeting room, I explained our reliance on gravity and the huge tidal range in the adjacent Bristol Channel. We talked wet fencing and summer penning. We talked Viewers, Board members and drainage rates. We talked keetching and winter maintenance. Just for half an hour.
Then on a lovely summer’s evening we piled into a couple of 4-wheel-drives to put theory into practice. We began with the ditches around the back gardens, full of silt and lawn mower clippings – no wonder the run-off from the newly paved patio doesn’t get away. Then out into the sticks. Help, off the tarmac. Unknown territory. And all within a stone’s throw. We looked at gripes and their tile drains; ditches pulled every 20 years or so then fenced to stop the cattle poaching them in again, with waterings in strategic places; the rhynes with their alternatively trimmed banks, with posts marking the ends of the field drains, with piles of fresh weed left recently by the contractor; the free flowing gouts and the absence of fallen withy trees.
Slowly the penny dropped. No, you can’t plant bulrushes in your “stream”, you can’t fence off the rhyne bank just because you now own a pony paddock, you can’t make a new access by dumping a load of builder’s rubble. Riparian rights go hand in hand with riparian responsibilities.
By the time we reached the tilting weirs, the flap hatches under the sea defences and the E.A.’s River Yeo sluice, the message had got through. It was part of their village the councillors had taken for granted yet knew little about. For the sake of just a couple of hours, the sole farmer on the council was no longer a lone voice and the Drainage Board had a valuable ally.