Effects of flooding: How floods can devastate wildlife

Disastrous, destructive, deadly. Flooding wreaks havoc for humans and wildlife too. With extreme rainfall events becoming more frequent due to climate change, we hear from an RSPB reserve that's already feeling the effects.

5 min read
RSPB Langford Lowfields, with flood water almost submerging a sign that reads 'Danger'.

The new year has barely begun and already the UK is being affected by severe flooding. Following the wettest sixth months since records began in 1890 (between June and December 2023), this recent weather feels like a warning we can’t ignore.   

Climate change predictions make it clear that we’re going to see more and more extreme winter rainfall events across the UK in the coming years. Last year, the UN IPCC declared a ‘code red for humanity’ and warned of the increasing risk of flooding. Aside from the costs to individual lives and livelihoods, there are economic impacts too. The estimated yearly cost of flooding is predicted to rise to £27 billion by 2080, if governments fail to take action to deal with the climate and nature crisis. With half a million more people around the world at risk of serious flooding every year, we can’t ignore extreme weather or its root cause – climate change. 

Just as human lives are devastated by increased flooding, its impact can be disastrous for wildlife. We hear from Langford Lowfields, a reserve that has been repeatedly impacted by serious flooding about what that looks like on the ground. As you’ll discover, the effects are already extreme, and we can’t afford to let them worsen on our watch. 

No time to recover at Langford Lowfields

Joe Harris, site manager at RSPB Langford Lowfields, discusses flooding that took place at the reserve in 2023. Since then, the reserve has flooded a further two times, preventing it from reopening to the public and giving wildlife little chance to recover.

Following a day and a half of heavy rain linked to Storm Babet, the River Trent adjacent to RSPB Langford Lowfields rose to its highest level since 2000 and, in the early hours of Sunday 22nd October 2023, came pouring onto the reserve. By the end of the next day, levels on the reserve had risen by around four metres.

While the wetland species we have on site will have adapted to cope with flooding, I can’t help but think that our land-dwelling invertebrates and small mammal populations (including voles and Harvest Mice) will be knocked back, in turn impacting species higher up the food chain.

The floods in recent years have been almost annual (October 2023, February 2021, January 2020) limiting the bounce-back time given to species. Grass Snakes were seen at Langford for the first time in 2019, but not since, with the flooding in January 2020 blamed for finishing off any hibernating snakes. Bearded Tits are also impacted by the flooding, with wintering birds pushed off site and then seemingly not returning to nest in affected sites the following spring.

A viewing platform at RSPB Langford Lowfields submerged under flood water.

As Langford Lowfields' example and the flooding events of this January show, we can’t allow extreme wet weather to continue unchecked. If we do, people’s lives will be put at risk, homes will be destroyed and wildlife will struggle to survive year after year. We need better solutions for people and wildlife – like nature-based solutions, which harness the power of nature to tackle issues like extreme weather. By restoring wild environments, we can reduce the impact of flooding – coastal wetlands help us take tidal surges in stride and native woodlands slow the rainfall heading to our rivers. Good news for nature and people too.

That’s why we’re putting pressure on the UK Government to reach net-zero targets and to invest in wild places. If you’d like to help, why not join us as a campaigner?

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