Water, water everywhere in Isle of Man’s northern plain

Ballaghennie reserve, taken from a video captured by Andreas Gliding Club's Bob Fennell

Ballaghennie reserve, taken from a video captured by Andreas Gliding Club's Bob Fennell

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This stunning image shows the extent of the flooding that continues to grip the Ayres nature reserve on the island’s northern coast following record rainfall.

The frame, showing a mile and a half long strip of the Ballaghennie reserve underwater, is taken from a video captured by Andreas Gliding Club’s Bob Fennell.

The water has barely receded since the area first flooded in December. Knee-deep levels of floodwater have left sections of the Ballaghennie road virtually impassable by all but four-wheel drive vehicles, while parts of the road to the shore at Smeale remain under around a foot of water.

Louise Samson, Ayres warden for the Department for the Environment, Food and Agriculture, said: ‘Everybody I speak to says that they have never seen it this bad. We monitor the groundwater throughout the year and it is exceptionally high at the moment. Every time the water level goes down a few inches, it comes back up again as soon as it rains.’

The House of Keys learned this week that the January storms had caused eight metres of coastal erosion near the Point of Ayre.

The storms may have disrupted the existing drainage systems such as the Cranstal drain that carries run-off water into the area.

‘The drain comes to a dead end in the middle of the reserve,’ said Mrs Samson. ‘It doesn’t actually flow out into the sea, rather the water filters out underground.

‘The whole of the front of the dunes have been eroded in the tidal surges, and there’s a hypothesis that the surges have moved so much gravel around that it’s blocked up the underwater drainage system that flowed into the sea.’

Parts of the area were also flooded to a lesser degree for several months around the same time last year, leading Mrs Samson to believe that the flooding is a cumulative effect of long-term rainfall.

‘The fact that we had a large amount of rain over such a long period last year means that the groundwater didn’t drop that much over the summer, so it didn’t take a huge amount of rain to top it back up again in the winter and cause it to flood.

‘It’s quite common after heavy rain for the Cranstal drain to overflow and the surrounding areas to flood before the water goes down again.

‘That’s quite a normal event, but it’s just not going down at the moment. If we got two or three weeks of really nice weather, I think it would go down quite quickly, but if this continues to happen I think we could see a complete change in the reserve as it will go from a heathland nature reserve to a wetland reserve.’

‘We’ll wait and see what happens next year. If it happens again we will look seriously at how to deal with access for the public.’

Mrs Samson said that it was too soon to count the true cost of the flooding on the nature reserve’s rare habitats.

‘The water has flooded some of the areas of lichen heath, which are really important as they’re a very rare habitat,’ she said. ‘We also have a very rare crimson and gold moth, which is critically endangered. It only occurs at the Ayres and a couple of sites in Ireland in the whole of the British Isles.

‘That area has been flooded and I doubt they will survive, so it’s likely we’ll see a dramatic decline this year. Hopefully there are enough areas that aren’t flooded so the population will bounce back in time.’

The rainfall at Ronaldsway across the three months of December, January and February came to 374.3mm (14.7 ins), the Met Office said. That’s more than 130mm (5.1 ins) above the long term winter average, making it the second wettest on record. The winter of 1965/66 had 5mm more.

The number of days with rain was a record breaker though, 68 days, which beats the previous record of 65 days in 1994/95. There were only six completely dry days.

The mean wind speed measured 21.3mph, the highest on record.

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