This morning, Azure damselflies whirred attractively over the pond in search of small flying insects; tiny olive-green froglets crawled through the undergrowth towards the water and butterflies fed languidly on buddleias, thistles and ragwort as the sunshine bathed our garden in warm, comforting rays.
The scene was very different only four days ago. Following a warm, muggy morning, a distant rumble of thunder was audible as we sat down to lunch. An hour or so later, the sun shone somewhat blurrily but there was no noticeable sign of what was to follow. I was admiring a teneral Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) perched in one of our apple trees when I realised the sky had become a sinister shade of purple. Seconds later, an ear-splitting crack resonated directly overhead and huge hailstones started bouncing off the ground like crazed tennis balls.
This was as nothing compared with the rain that followed. It came in a sudden, rushing deluge, as if the gods were emptying great saucepans of water over our heads. The small stream at the bottom of the garden started to swell with alarming rapidity, finally breaking its banks and surging across the paddock – dragging with it metal troughs, branches and a tangled mess of plant life.
Grace and Betty (the pony and pig) had the good sense to take refuge in a small but raised wooden shelter as the water coursed through the meadow and disappeared into the woods. We were able to rescue them – safe and dry – a couple of hours later, but Spike, our amiable black moggy was less fortunate, being swept up in the violent flow of mud and detritus spewing over the culvert. Luckily he was able to scramble to the comparative safety of a high wall, where we later picked him up drenched, mewling and covered in slime.
Amazingly, our little wooden bridge over the stream was left intact but several large trees came down and the banks of the stream collapsed in a muddy mess. The whole drama lasted less than three hours but the residual debris and damage will take weeks to clear.
My initial concern for the welfare of the flora and fauna was less worrying than I had at first feared – although there were undoubtedly fatalities. It is difficult to ascertain the long-term effects of the inundation on local wildlife, but we shall continue to monitor the situation.
Looking back at my notebook, I see that the weather was dry on 15th July – St. Swithin’s Day. What happened to those 40 days of uninterrupted sunshine, I wonder?