The Ventilator

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The great wall of Ryde

Matthew Chatfield

Anybody who’s ever listened to ‘Desert Island Discs’ will surely have asked themselves what their own special recordings and luxury item would be – and of course, that killer question at the end of every programme, if a freak wave were to wash over your desert island and you could save only one possession, which would it be?

Living up a hill as I do, I’m not too worried about this happening in reality. Still I can’t help but imagine myself making those choices. I’d obviously let the fifty years worth of interesting beach stones fend for themselves, but every room of my home has books in it, and I’d twitch terribly at the thought of having to choose just a handful to save from the rising waves. Would it be my father’s old three-volume set of the Lord of The Rings? Or maybe my treasured Shorter Oxford English Dictionary – actually, probably not that as despite the name, it is the largest book I own. Or what about clothes? On reflection, it would probably be a mercy if most of my tatty wardrobe sank beneath the water, but there are those who collect hats and shoes like I collect original New Naturalist volumes.

In parts of England at the moment (2020), the wettest February on record has forced many householders to play this parlour game for real. Rising river flood waters mean abandoning homes, farms and businesses, with scant moments for occupiers to save what they can.

Here on the Island, the few rivers we have wind their short and well-behaved courses to the sea. Flooding more often comes from the seas and not the overflowing riverbanks. But unlucky basement-dwellers in The Strand, Ryde will attest that catastrophic flooding of homes can and does happen here.

This year, despite high tides, storms and biblical quantities of rain, they have been spared. We have not seen the usual pictures of the Fire and Rescue Service pumping out low-lying households. A bit of luck? Far from it. Millions of pounds have been spent by Southern Water and the Environment Agency, building a colossal underground storage system for wastewater, and rerouting the Monkton Mead Brook.

Incredibly, almost all of this work is hidden beneath the ground, and the charming Georgian facades of houses on The Strand are undisturbed by the modern technology that keeps them from being inundated. The one exception is Simeon Street Recreation Ground which was repurposed as a place for overflow flood water to be kept by the construction of a massive and brutal-looking concrete wall around it. An uglier way to compromise this local green space could hardly have been imagined.

What a shame we couldn’t re-engineer this whole rather featureless field, and let the poor channelled Monkton Mead Brook back out to create an active wetland with new planting, a new landscape, and exciting and interesting places to play – whilst still keeping a big barrier at the back to stop the houses from being flooded.


This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

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