Storm Desmond and me: Roy Henderson

Ranger surveying the flood damage caused by a landslide

Roy Henderson has worked as a ranger for the last 33 years. The Area Ranger for Borrowdale has spent the last year repairing the damage December’s Storm Desmond wrecked on footpaths, bridges and walls.

How did Storm Desmond affect the Borrowdale Valley last December?  

In Borrowdale, and Newlands the valleys near Keswick where I’m a ranger, the damage from Storm Desmond there were isolated pockets of devastation.

I was out in the 4x4 the day after the storms hit, checking paths and storm drains destroyed by landslips and bridges cracked by floods.

The floods caused 21 landslips in the Borrowdale and Newlands valleys. 

It was the third time in a decade that some of our paths were washed away by floods. After the first storm in 2007, it felt devastating. Now, we’re starting to get used to it. 

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

In the days after the floods our forestry team moved tonnes of debris from Keswick Football Club’s pitches using the team’s tractor. 

Clearing debris from the riverside path at Keswick, Cumbria
Helping with the clean-up
Clearing debris from the riverside path at Keswick, Cumbria

For us, most of the year has been spent rebuilding walls, fixing paths and restoring drains on the fells. In December we worked every daylight hour to build temporary wooden footbridges, making paths as safe as possible for walkers.

What are you doing next? 

The weather pattern’s changing. We’re going to get more frequent storms. It’s not just my bones telling me that – with three big floods in ten years, you can see it.

Working with farmers, locals and local flood groups, we need to make the Lakes more resilient to storms like Desmond. 

In the last few weeks we’ve been rebuilding the retaining wall on Derwent Island, Derwentwater. Every time we get a big flood it destroys the wall that protects the island. When we get another big storm will lose a section of the island.

Rather than just replace the old stone wall, we’re rebuilding it using bags full of sand and soil. It should be more stable and, over time, will get grown over by vegetation – giving the bank a more natural look. 

The bags are heavy – up to 45kg each. And we’ve had to transport over 2,000 of them to the island by boat. We had to lift each bag by hand five times, effectively moving around 450 tonnes of material.

I don’t want to build something that only lasts 25 years and has to be redone by the ranger that replaces me. We need to make things resilient. And our new wall won’t be washed away by the next flood.