“Rotherham floods were entirely predictable”: environmentalist speaks out of Catcliffe floods caused by Storm Babet 

by | Oct 22, 2023

Image: Ian Rotherham

Professor Ian Rotherham, 67, a retired environmental geography lecturer and campaigner explains that Rotherham is naturally prone to flooding due to having two rivers running through it.

“If you look at the whole catchment [area], the top is rooted in the Pennines and the water gathers pace as it rushes downhill, so when the volume of water builds and builds and when the water hits Rotherham, it’s catastrophic,” he said. 

The River Rother meets the River Don in the centre of Rotherham’s settlement, so when both rivers converge water levels are high. 

On 18 October, Storm Babet arrived in the UK and brought heavy rains with it – 84mm of rainfall was measured to have fallen in South Yorkshire in just one day, which caused the River Don to swell.  

Continuous rainfall over the next few days resulted in floods across the county, with the tiny village of Catcliffe in Rotherham hit the hardest. 

Catcliffe, and the greater Rotherham area, previously experienced devastating flooding in 2007 and 2019.  

Professor Rotherham explained that urbanisation and climate change are to blame for the frequency and severity of floods across the country. 

“They [the floods] were entirely predictable,” Professor Rotherham said.  

“They have been predicted because of urbanisation and climate change.”

Urbanisation, and the resulting development of settlements, increases surface run-off, where rainfall runs off concrete and tarmac instead of seeping into the soil to be stored. 

Climate change is also making the UK wetter. October this year, when Storm Babet hit, has been the wettest month ever recorded since daily rainfall measurements began in 1838.

“We need to make space for water and for people, and those people need to know where and when the floods might happen again, and what can be done to limit the damage,” Professor Rotherham said. 

Professor Rotherham pictured with BBC Yorkshire weatherman Paul Hudson
Professor Rotherham pictured with BBC Yorkshire weatherman Paul Hudson 

Professor Rotherham is also an advocate and advisor for “Slow the Flow”, a national campaign to educate the public on natural flood management and sustainable drainage systems. 

He said: “If you can slow the flow even by a little bit, it could prevent the whole catchment from overflowing.

“When Fishlake in Doncaster flooded [during the 2019 floods], the banks burst at night and it was like a tsunami.”

Since the disastrous 2019 floods, Rotherham Council introduced its ‘Six Priority Flood Alleviation Schemes’, which will include creating new and strengthening existing flood defences, bridge works, public realm improvement works and wetland creation along a 4km reach of the River Don, plus similar works at Kilnhurst.

However, difficulties in securing funding to finance the schemes has prevented any progress since the plan was first announced. 

Another £36.5 million is still needed before the council can approve construction on any of the scheme.