The county where they’ve moved a river to try to prevent flooding this winter

Communities are having to adapt to a changing climate, but they still fear what is to come, Hannah Miller reports

An extraordinary effort to reroute a river will help to protect homes in the valleys of the Lake District this winter, it is hoped.

In one of the most ambitious river restoration projects the National Trust has ever carried out, more than a mile of Godrill Beck has been moved to prevent flooding that cuts off communities and damages properties.

The water used to flow directly alongside a road, having been artificially straightened many years ago.

Residents have remained fearful of floods ever since Storm Desmond Credit: PA

Now it curves as it runs through wide floodplain expanse, slowing down the water towards nearby properties.

The project had been in the planning for twenty years, but it was only after Storm Desmond demonstrated the impact of flooding in the starkest possible terms that people started to get behind the plan.

Everyone here hopes the new river will hold up if a similar storm hits Cumbria this year or in the future, but while efforts like this can help to manage heavy rainfall, preventing the weather becoming even more extreme is another story.

How big was Storm Desmond?

More than 50,000 properties were affected when Storm Desmond struck Cumbria in 2015.

Appelby suffered major flooding during Storm Desmond Credit: PA

It has since been described as the most extreme flood to hit the area in 600 years.

More than 341mm (13ins) of rain fell in parts of Cumbria in just 24 hours.

 The total damage was estimated to cost more than £1.3bn.

In the town of Appleby, the memory of Storm Desmond looms large.

Residents tell us of their anxiety every time the flood sirens go off – ‘three or four times a year’ since Storm Desmond.

The COP26 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP26? When and where will it be?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties (abbreviated as COP) to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

Who is going?

Leaders of the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP26:

  • US President Joe Biden, climate envoy John Kerry, climate adviser and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and 10 other US cabinet officials.

  • Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In the days leading up to COP26, Mr Morrison committed Australia to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prince Charles, Prince William, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge are also attending. The Queen has withdrawn from visiting after being advised by her doctors to rest - she will address the conference virtually instead.

China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are among the leaders that have decided not to travel to Glasgow.

Back to top

What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - Countries are being encouraged to set ambitious 2030 emissions targets. They are also encouraged to accelerate the phase-out of coal, clamp down on deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables.

2. Protect natural habitats and communities from climate change disasters

3. Finances for a greener future - In 2009, developed countries were asked to keep to their promises to contribute at least $100 billion (£72.5 billion) per year by 2020 to protect the planet. In 2015, it was agreed that the goal would be extended to 2025.

However, new analysis shows the goal is unlikely to have been met last year and is on track to fall short in 2021 and 2022.

4. Getting all countries and organisations to work together to tackle the climate crisis

Back to top

The town is due to get a five million pound pumping station to protect sixty homes, but the work won’t begin until February.

The town’s mayor says such attempts to improve flood resilience amount to little more than a sticking plaster, in the context of ever more extreme rain.

"If flooding happens on a regular basis and the shops on our Main Street become too risky to run then they might become empty, it might become a ghost town.

'We need to act now to mitigate the effects of the climate'

"I’d like to see direct action by those people going to COP-26," Mayor Gareth Hayes says.

 How does climate change contribute towards flooding?

Greenhouse gas emissions cause the air temperature to increase – and the warmer the air, the more moisture it holds.

If the temperature rises by 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, the Environment Agency predicts that winter rainfall will increase by approximately 6% by the 2050s and by 8% by the 2080s (compared to 1981-2000 baseline).

London’s sea level is expected to rise by between approximately 23cm by the 2050s and 45cm by the 2080s.

Peak river flows in the winter are expected to be up to 27% higher in the 2050s.

Storm Desmond caused more than a billion pounds worth of damage Credit: PA

Moving a river, as seen in the Lake District, is only one way of trying to work better alongside nature.

New water storage features, larger flood plains, and increased flood defences are a guaranteed part of life in the decades to come.

Regardless of what happens at COP-26, scientists say we will need to find solutions to cope with extreme rain – adaptation to the changing planet being just as necessary as trying to limit our carbon emissions.