ALAN WRIGHT: Time to take notice of those who know

Flooding in York.
Flooding in York.

As we’ve just celebrated the festive season which features tales of three wise men, I was wondering whether the value of wisdom still has a place in modern life.

In this country, we are probably weaker that many other cultures in according value to the experience of the older members of society in particular.

Too often, there are tales told of discord when families are thrown together for long periods over the extended Christmas season, but I prefer to celebrate what goes right when young and old get on well.

Watching youngsters and much older relations sharing a sense of humour and realising that they have more in common than they might have thought is great to see.

In the Middle East in particular, simply being older is seen as a positive, and the concept of “wise men”, and women, is accepted as part of the natural way of things.

Even having a grey beard is a positive, and stroking it during a discussion is a sure way to quietly point out the presence of acquired genius – it doesn’t always work in Hartlepool though.

The awful pictures of the major flooding recently suggest that knowledge built up over centuries is being largely ignored – and wisdom is wasted.

The images of the centres of near neighbours like York and Leeds being awash really bring the horror close to home. If you sit and listen to people who know the ways of the weather and the land, you tend to hear much more sense than some lightweight experts provide.

People have known for centuries about the importance of keeping drainage channels clear – and carrying out dredging before problems appeared, not afterwards.

I remember some years ago a farmer friend telling me that they were advised, mistakenly, to plant lots of trees near riverbanks to help with water management.

The people who knew the land pointed out that the tree idea was good in principle, a big tree drinks a lot of water, but they need to be planted well away from the rivers.

If they are too close, branches snap off in stormy weather and they race downstream to effectively form dams.

For years, I’ve marvelled at plans to build huge housing developments on flood plains – but still the madness goes on.

The same farming friend was telling me that a lot of modern crop management is too intensive and makes the land as hard and unyielding as concrete – instead of letting it breathe and absorb heavy rain at bad times.

I still don’t think that there’s much new about our weather – the name of the Lake District is a bit of a clue – but our divorce from harmony with nature is the new factor.

If you want a clinching local argument, look at the idea of letting the Heugh Breakwater erode into the sea.

I’m old enough to remember the night in 1953 when the storms on the east coast destroyed the outdoor bathing pool on the Headland in hours.

Next time you are taking a walk there, look at the huge foundation blocks which are all that remain – and that was inside the protection of the breakwater.

Another storm like that would see off the Marina in a very short time – and remind us that the fishermen and the residents of the Headland have wisdom too.