'Storm Ciarán has provided us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the Island’s landscape'

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By Stephen Le Quesne

IT is difficult to know what to write about Storm Ciarán and the trail of destruction it has left across the Island.

What I would like to do is make a few observations and try to weave them together to create some sort of narrative.

Firstly, I am so very glad that everyone in the Island is safe and that we seem to be helping each other out as much as we can. Kindness, warmth and helping others is what glues us all together. Sometimes these societal attributes can go missing in the dark due to all the pressures we face, and the tendency for our economic systems to prioritise the individual.

Considering all the devastation, the government needs to create a “storm fund” to help individuals, families and businesses recover what they have lost. Do we not have a rainy-day fund? Surely this is exactly the sort of moment for which it was established. Hopefully they are working on something.

I also must congratulate all our elected officials and civil servants who were involved in planning, preparing and putting in place the emergency help and assistance during the past few days. This was no small task, and the concept of sleep must have become foreign to quite a few people.

Storm Ciarán was big, and underwent rapid cyclogenesis, which is the strengthening and development of cyclonic rotation within the atmosphere. We know that wind currents are created by differences in temperature. The larger the difference, the greater the wind speed. Warmer air rises and expands and cooler air rushes in to replace it, creating wind.

The storm can be traced back to huge temperature extremes over North America, Canada, with its freezing temperatures, and the southern US basking in high temperatures. This difference accelerated the jet stream to over 200mph, fuelling the developing storm.

We also have the impact of warming oceans and this extra heat, which can be seen as extra energy, that needs to go somewhere.

According to the UN, global monthly mean ocean temperatures are at an all-time high. We know that 90% of the excessive heat trapped by the rising levels of greenhouse gases with global warming has been absorbed by the ocean, fuelling storms, and creating more unstable weather patterns. Almost all the rain that falls on land starts off in the ocean.

Climate breakdown has now become part of the lives of everyone in Jersey and we need to think about mitigation and solutions, so future storms will have less impact. With our climate becoming more unstable, we need to bring professionals from all corners of society together to come up with plans and solutions to combat what we will face in the future. We need a more efficient, intelligent and ecologically based planning system; we need to think about the climate, the environment and storm mitigation in everything we do.

Not building on wetlands and on land that is prone to flooding would be a good start; these flood plains are nature’s way of holding and storing water. We need to consider more natural solutions to the challenges we face, such as re-introducing beavers into our waterways. Let’s store and slow the water as it flows downstream, so our drains do not take all of strain. Beavers are nature’s architects and tick all the boxes.

Urban planning needs to be questioned and deconstructed as well. Building high buildings, close together, does not seem a great idea when they funnel high winds between the gaps, creating focused wind tunnels.

Our own food security is also of critical importance. We have seen that depending too much on external food sources leaves us vulnerable, and people get scared and panic when they feel vulnerable. Smaller farming operations and small holdings need support, and we need to put policies in places so that we can diversify from an agricultural industry dominated by one seasonal crop. These are big challenges, but we must face up to them, or we leave ourselves vulnerable to extreme weather patterns, which will become more frequent.

One last thing to discuss is the loss of trees in the Island. The loss of any old, native tree is significant, but is not the end of the story. Nature is all about death and regeneration and there is a huge diversity of animals, plants and fungi that need both wet and dry deadwood to survive; a dead and fallen tree does not mean “dead nature”.

What we have now in front of us is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-design and change our parks, our outdoor spaces and the wider countryside. We can plant more native trees, create more biodiverse areas and most importantly be more inclusive, so that everyone has access to natural, wilder spaces. That will hopefully come in time, but what we must focus on now is helping every individual, family and business that is in need.

  • Stephen Le Quesne is a naturalist, conservationist, forest school leader and nature connection advocate.

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