High Water


Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, Friday, 15th June, 2007

Coxley BeckCoxley BeckBY THE TIME I TOOK these photographs, late this afternoon, the flood on Coxley Beck had subsided. A square of garden decking (left), undermined by the flood, looks like a beached raft. The stout timber fence collapsed and curled like a strip of ribbon as the beck burst its banks.

Flood warnings for local rivers weren’t issued until the early hours of the morning and the flood was at its height when the first dog walkers of the day found that the footpath into Coxley Valley had turned into a watercourse.

The rush of the water sounded like a distant train.

'One has to feel sorry for some of the new residents of Coxley Dell (who have only moved in within the past year),' wrote my neighbour, Derek Hale, in a letter to the local paper, 'who awoke this morning to find the bottom of their gardens part of a raging river. It's not the sort of thing you would expect after paying over £400,000 for your dream home'.


CalderThe River Calder (left) is high, although it's not up to its November 2000 levels, however it's risen enough to block the culvert that flows under the canal and into the river by the Bingley Arms, next to the bridge. When this happens, water cascades through an overflow (right) into the canal. In 2000 the canal was unable cope with the flow and Coxley Beck soon started to pond up back towards the meadow. Smithy Brook Beck which joins it under the old railway viaduct adds to the bottle-neck effect.

Worst Case Scenario

But the bottle-neck effect isn't the most serious scenario facing the new houses. There are two earthen dams, too small to be subject to the reservoirs act, a few hundred yards upstream. In past years on two occasions some neighbours who live close to the beck have been woken in the middle of the night and told by the police that they should prepare to evacuate should one of the dams give way. Their house is on a banking, several metres higher than the new development.

Local residents and councillors have long been aware of these flooding dangers and brought up the matter at a public enquiry but the information was never passed on to the Environment Agency:

‘At the time of consideration of the planning application the Agency was unaware of concerns regarding the dams’ said Jeff Meynell, Development Control Officer of the Environment Agency in December 2001. Surprisingly, since they'd already approved the development, he added; 'We do not have any sections showing how the site will be set out.'

I'm glad I didn't buy one of the houses. It seems like a disaster waiting to happen, one that could so easily have been avoided.

Brookside Ecology

Coxley footpathbullheadIn February 2001 an ecologist surveyed this stretch of the beck (left, as it was before the development), netting Bullhead (right), a protected species of fish, and identifying 'several ancient woodland herbs . . . Ramsoms, Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage and Dog's Mercury'. As it was winter, he missed the stand of Purple Loosestrife that made such a show in the corner of the meadow during the summer.

Here's what he concluded:

‘ The following are recommended for the landscaping of both banks of Coxley Beck along the beck corridor site: -

1. All existing semi-natural vegetation and native species, including trees, shrubs and herbs should be retained. Reason:- to maintain the existing semi-natural conditions.

2. There should be no planting of trees or shrubs along either side of the beck and no planting of non-native species nearby. Reasons:- Non-native species should not be introduced to the existing semi-natural vegetation and any tree or shrub planting would increase shading of the beck and its margins to the detriment of its flora and fauna. The best way to conserve the Bullhead and its habitat is to prevent excessive shading of the water-course and its banks.

Natural regeneration of existing vegetation should be encouraged and allowed to proceed without intervention and artificial management.'

Wake-up Call

beckwild garlicSo many trees have been felled around the site, and Bellway Homes have obliterated every wild flower and ancient woodland herb on their bank of Coxley Beck. Recently weedkiller has been sprayed on the Himalayan balsam alongside the Gypsy Lane footpath; a questionable way to encourage natural regeneration.

The ecologist's statement was endorsed by Wakefield Council at the reserved matters meeting that gave the go-ahead for this development.

I think this flooding shows how important it is to restore the beckside to its natural state. That is, after all, what the developer and the council originally agreed to do.