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Spirits undampened by high-tide floods at Blakeney Point Field Station

24 October 2019

The first major event in UCL’s M.Res. in Biodiversity, Evolution & Conservation is to take the new cohort of students to our field station on Blakeney Point in Norfolk.

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The aim of the trip is to allow them to collect some data for their statistics module, but also to give them some time to get to know each other better. On the basis that people bond through adversity, the Point helpfully contributed to this second aim with some relatively extreme conditions this year. On arrival at Morston Quay on Friday, 27 September, to be boated to the Point, we were greeted by the news that the area was expecting some very high tides in the next few days. When the locals are telling you the tides are going to be unusually high, it’s a good sign that you’re going need to keep an eye on conditions. It was just as well that we did, as Sunday evening proved.

Thanks to Ryan and Luke, the National Trust wardens and our neighbours on the Point, the news came through around lunchtime on Sunday that the evening’s high tide, coupled with a small storm surge, could push the water level around the Point to worrying levels. The peak of the tide was expected around 8pm, or our normal dinner time, which created an additional problem – for safety reasons, the wardens have to switch off our gas and electricity supplies if a flood is expected.

 

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We would have to plan accordingly to avoid being trapped with 10 hungry students. Our cooks got to work to cater for an early dinner – veggie stew at 7pm rather than 8. We made sure everyone came in for food with torches in case we had to lose power. And we kept an eye on the water level outside.

Around 7.30, NT warden Ryan went outside to check on the tide, and came back with the reassuring news that the water was nowhere near the field station. Fifteen minutes later the water was lapping at our door step. We were suddenly at action stations.

The priorities in flood conditions are to get as much equipment and other items off the floor and above the likely water level as quickly as possible, and to turn off the power. Within 5 minutes the students, staff and wardens had got as much off the floor as possible, and the wardens had our power safely turned off.

The National Trust wardens have always been extremely welcoming of us and the students, and that night was no exception. No one seemed to mind the impromptu party that ensued in the New Life Boat Station where the Wardens live and where refuge was sought until the tide receded.

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In the event, the flood water came in through the front door of the field station, and also bubbled in through the back and side walls. It gave the floor a wetting, and deposited a fine layer of sand, but no more than that.. The water level peaked just after the time predicted for high tide, but quickly receded, allowing us to restore the field station to normality. The party at the New Lifeboat Station continued though.

We went to bed wondering what the morning would bring as higher water levels still were forecast for the next couple of days and the tides were generally clashing with meal times, which made life harder in terms of scheduling food around the loss of power.

Thankfully, the wind direction changed, which meant that the tides were not elevated by storm surges. Several times water came to our front door step, but while we only had to abandon the field station once, we had to plan for the eventuality five or six times, which was a less than relaxing experience. The students took it all in their stride, going into action calmly and efficiently on the occasions we needed to elevate equipment from forecast flood waters. It didn’t seem to dampen their enthusiasm for Blakeney Point. It was harder on the nerves of the staff, responsible for the safety of the students and the integrity of the field station. But at least we got to draw a new chalk line on the pantry door to mark the flood of 2019.

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Tim Blackburn

Professor of Invasion Biology

September 2019