I spend a lot of my life worrying about the climate. When you have more than 100 miles of precious chalk streams under your care, rain becomes the currency of your life. Too much in summer. Too little in winter. Or sometimes the other way around. Other times a bit of both. For us river folk, as for farmers, the weather is never quite right.
Who do I blame when it is not quite right? Well, mostly us. People. Society. Urbanisation. Too many people sucking too much water from too few rivers. Water companies pumping untreated sewage into already critically depleted rivers. Politicians who allow the building of houses on floodplains. Agriculture that gets a free pass to plough, plant and spray pretty much whatever it likes in sensitive river catchments. Do I blame climate change? Not in my darkest moments, no.
Now, I’m no climate change denier — we are daily trashing our planet in a bold bid for human oblivion — but to use a global problem as an excuse for locally sourced destruction is delusional. We have the same water we have always had: the British rainfall total for 2021 will be much the same as it was for 1921, which was much the same as for 1821. At my home, which happens to be a water mill, the wheel still works as efficiently and effectively as when it was updated from wood to cast iron in 1865.
Of course, the counter-argument to this is that British weather is more unpredictable today. We have the right rain but increasingly at the wrong times. Or so it is said. But that is old news. Henry Rider Haggard, of King Solomon’s Mines fame, became a farmer in the later years of his Victorian life, bewailing in his agricultural chronicles wet summers and dry winters, all in sage agreement with his Norfolk neighbours that the climate was irreversibly changing.