The Green Room ~ under siege from water


By the Revd Dr John Harrison


While I was conducting last Sunday’s morning service here in Haydon Bridge, the sanctuary was suddenly bathed in a shaft of bright light which took us all by surprise as the weather outside had been very much the same as usual, dull and grey, when we arrived.

Now before we get carried away by sudden bright lights, this is not an uncommon occurrence in St Cuthbert’s as there is a large window in the south wall of the sanctuary through which the sunlight streams in the late morning. The difference was that over the last few weeks we have become used to dull greyness and endless rain, and none of us would have been surprised if someone had started building a large wooden boat on the hills above the village.

This first shaft of sunlight was perhaps the first sign, like the rainbow was to Noah, of the end of what has seemed to be an endless wetness. Since mid-November, Haydon Bridge, like many other villages in the North, has been under siege from water, flooding homes and our local Methodist chapel, and blocking roads, but as a community we have come through it much strengthened by the experience, despite the insensitive announcement that we are about to lose our Fire and Rescue Service who have worked tirelessly to help those in need. With the prospect of an increasing frequency of heavy rainstorms under changed climatic conditions, there is now an urgent call to do something about the flooding problem, raising what is one of the most important environmental questions of our time – do we look to our own well-being or to the well-being of the whole body?

Haydon Bridge lies in the catchment of the river South Tyne which extends many miles to the west and south of us, draining, for example, a large area of the North Pennines and we were not alone in our suffering during the floods. Early reaction has already polarised opinion between the village and the government agencies responsible for management of the river.

If you have cause to visit Haydon Bridge can I advise you not to mention ‘the gravel banks’ in the river for this is where the battle lines have been drawn. On the one hand, removing the large banks would increase the size of the river channel (after all, that’s what used to happen “before we had these floods”) – goodbye floods – on the other hand, increasing the rate of river flow through Haydon Bridge would increase the risk of flood damage downstream. So we have local interest set against a whole-catchment management view, an unnecessary but perhaps inevitable polarisation. Once opinion has been divided in this way and battle lines have been drawn it becomes all the more difficult to reach a consensus view on a common way forward. Expand the scale and we have the underlying problem with regard to climate change. While each nation looks to protecting its own interests the vital global perspective will remain shrouded by an impenetrable political veil which threatens to promote empty words at the expense of meaningful action.

As Christians we are called to be functioning parts of the body of God’s Creation, not fire and rescue workers but calling the world to think as one – to see the larger being outside our own drive for self-preservation. It is only when we can take this step that we shall see the whole working as one. This is not to the exclusion of our own needs but incorporating them within the welfare of the whole.



  • Dr John Harrison FRMetS is the Bishop of Newcastle’s Environmental Adviser, and a former Vice-Dean of Natural Sciences and Senior Lecturer, Climate Laboratory, in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Stirling University.

  • Go to Environment pages



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