Storm Desmond and me: John Pring

Staff and volunteer clear up day in Hartsop

Devon-born John Pring has worked as a ranger in the Lake District for 25 years. Now Lead Ranger for Ullswater, John was at home when the Storm Desmond floods hit.

How did Storm Desmond affect Ullswater last December? 

We’ve had plenty of storms – at least two bad storms in the last decade – but never on this scale. 

For farmers, it was particularly bad: thousands of yards of fencing were washed away, drystone walls came down and hundreds of tonnes of gravel were dumped on fields by floodwater. Many farms found it hard to keep stock in the right places.

The storm hit some areas worse than others. The village of Glenridding and the fields at Hartsop were devastated. The floodwater ripped up roads and damaged historic bridges. But Aira Force, England’s highest waterfall, seemed to escape damage.

What have you been doing since December 2015 to fix the damage? 

The first month was spent helping with the clear-up and assessing the damage. Staff from Aira Force helped diggers at Glenridding clear gravel and mud from roads. 

Some of the damage was covered by insurance and emergency funding from government. But the storms caused around £200,000 worth of damage that isn’t covered by insurance. 

On a cold February day a hundred people – including local primary school children – attended a volunteering day, clearing walling stones, silt and gravel from fields at Hartsop. 

" We’ve had plenty of storms – at least two bad storms in the last decade – but never on this scale. "
- John Pring, Lead Ranger, Ullswater

We’ve helped tenant farmers rebuild gaps in walls, fix fences on the fell, replace water hecks (gates across rivers) and clear gravel from fields. 

Where bridges were damaged by the floods, we’ve been repairing stonework and removing gravel to prevent flooding in the future. 

What are you doing next? 

We have to respond to this challenge, so we’re working with the Patterdale Parish Community Flood Group and our tenant farmers to explore options for long-term flood resilience measures. We think that working with natural processes rather than against them will make for a more sustainable landscape – benefiting farmers and nature.

We’ve been working with a tenant farmer at Hartsop to redesign a straightened section of the river, allowing a meadow beside it to flood when the water level gets too high. 

By allowing the river to meander, we’ll also see much more variety in it – slowing the flow of water, gravel beds will develop giving fish somewhere to lay their eggs. We’re also planning to plant trees along the route of the river – helping to soak up floodwater. 

We’re part of the local flood group in Glenridding, along with farmers, local businesspeople, public agencies and councillors. We’re prepared to try a range of things to stop the next big storm causing the damage we saw Storm Desmond do. The solutions are going to be natural, as well as more traditional engineered flood defences.