The Waters Beneath


Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, Saturday, 12th January, 2008

gateWATER IS BUBBLING up under the gate, spilling out onto the path and flowing down to the stream ten yards away. Perhaps, as they were taking the mechanical digger in to fell some of the bankside crack willows recently, the old drain beneath collapsed. It must be quite a blockage because it appears that most of the flow has been forced above ground. The overflow will soon cut it's own channel. It's only a few months since workmen repaired the potholes caused when a torrent of floodwater came down this footpath in June 2007.

damCoxley Dam

Water finds a way and there’s been a lot of it around this week, though nowhere near like the deluge we had last summer. The two overflow channels from the earthen wall of Coxley Dam seem to be flowing more freely than is normal.

mudWoodland Path

The usual muddy patch at the entrance to the wood is more extensive and even gloopier than usual, sucking at our boots as we sink ankle deep into it.


The small flash at the end of the long narrow pasture between the canal and river has extended to take in half of an adjacent paddock.

Eggs-traordinary Energy

Like water, energy flows through the natural world; an ecologist might chart the flow of energy from the sun, linking plants, herbivores and predators in a food chain or food web. Our success as a species owes a lot to our ingenuity in diverting some of the energy flowing through the biosphere in our direction. In Jamie Oliver’s Fowl Dinners on Channel 4 yesterday, the chef/food campaigner quoted these statistics:





Coxley BeckJust as we divert the flow of energy in the food chain for our own use, we divert the energy flowing through the water cycle, channelling water away from land we need for agriculture or housing and impounding it to create a store of potential energy – for example, here at the old mill dam in Coxley Valley, which was originally used to power a water wheel.

The flow of the sun’s energy through a landscape links the plants, animals and fungi that live there but the shape of the landscape itself is – in this valley and throughout much of the country – largely an expression of the way water flows through it. The water cycle is also powered by the sun’s energy, along with the force of gravity.

Taming the Flood

streamClearing willows from this hollow will improve the flow of water through the valley but it also means that the sponge-like ability of willow branches, leaves, roots and leaf litter to absorb each pulse of rainfall is diminished, so there could now be an increased risk of flash-flooding further downstream.

The National River Authority was informed by local councillors and residents of the history of flooding in the valley before the recent Coxley Dell housing development went ahead. The NRA raised no objections but building houses a few hundred yards downstream from the old Coxley Mill dam (reconstructed in the 1970s or 1980s) - a structure designed to store potential energy - isn’t entirely without its risks.