A couple of days back, I went for one of the more enlightening meetings of my life at the Wye & Usk Foundation’s HQ in Talgarth. There is so much to be said about this couple of hours that I am still digesting it all, but at the very least I think I have an answer to the question of the ‘Missing Ranunculus Debate’ on the Wye. Simon Evans is now the driving force behind WUF, especially so I guess after the sad loss of Stephen Marsh Smith, and a force he certainly is. After two hours of his company, I really felt like I’d gone through two terms of Uni lectures, so hot was my pen, so befuddled my brain. But I think I “got” the ranunculus issue… this is all according to SE!!!
Ranunculus on the Wye has served the river colossally for all our lives. It has been a habitat for smaller fish and fry, and for huge amounts of invertebrates, and it has also given the river structure, collected sediment, and acted as a massive filter bed. Sun and nutrients have long begun to produce algae by the start of May, BUT then the ranunculus has grown up and the blooms have been destroyed by the invertebrates within it. This year, and last, without the ranunculus, this algae has been a huge and well-publicized problem.
Where has the ranunculus gone then? Between October 2018 and February 2020, there were four 5 metre floods on the river, whereas you might expect ONE such deluge every twenty five years. To make matters worse, the flood in February ‘20 was a monster, the biggest in decades, if not centuries, and it ripped out most of any ranunculus left.
Come that spring, a very dry, hot May inhibited growth of what was left, and what did emerge was destroyed by the remnants of the swan population. (And canoeists I wonder, Simon?) In short, this was the perfect storm, as it were, and 97% of Wye ranunculus perished in the blink of an eye.
The future? Upland land use has to be reformed so more water can be held back there, rather than disgorging it unchecked into the headwaters. That’s for starters. More ideas to come… from you? From WUF? Let’s keep this going?