I HAVE often pondered what happens to moles when the River Devon breaks it banks and spills over onto the floodplains between Dollar and Menstrie.

Mice and voles are generally fleet-of-foot and can escape rising waters, but moles on the other hand are less agile.

I found the answer the other week when the Devon flooded after a period of relentless rain. When the waters had subsided, I discovered a recently excavated mole-hill by the bank of the river that had previously been completely submerged for several days.

I might be wrong, but this would suggest that moles survive in air pockets in their underground tunnels during periods of flooding.

In my book on a wildlife year on the River Devon – 'If Rivers Could Sing' – I recounted the drama of the river as it began to flood.

I wrote: "I approached the edge of the spreading flood as it crept forward with the sureness of an incoming tide, gradually filling cattle hoofprints pock-marked upon the ground. A movement caught my eye by the water margin – a diminutive brown furry bundle, swimming with whirring legs in a purposeful manner towards a small raised clump of grass. It was a field vole; its body buoyant and bobbing like a cork, the fur on the upper parts surprisingly dry despite its unexpected dunking.

"Sudden floods such as this are a disaster for voles. They are abundant on the haugh and this creature was no doubt one of many that were trying to escape the rising waters. The vole disappeared into a protruding tuft of grass, which by now was a tiny islet. I waited for a few more minutes, curious to see whether the creature would reappear, but it never did, preferring instead to lie low in its fragile shelter. If the water rose further again, then this frightened and stressed animal would once more have to take the plunge to find a new area of dry ground.

"One animal's calamity is another's fortune, and several herons, crows and magpies had gathered by the water's edge on the look-out for these fleeing voles, as well as invertebrates such as worms emerging to the surface, as they often do when the ground becomes saturated. Several black-headed gulls were also excitedly flying low over the flood plain, taking advantage of this new-found bounty caused by the spreading river."

While some birds benefit from this sudden food bonanza, others such as goosanders and kingfishers find things a bit more challenging.

Despite both species being regular inhabitants of the river, the sheer strength of the current and the murky water make it impossible for them to hunt fish and I suspect nearby lochs, or the coast might prove an attractive option during such periods.

Indeed, kingfishers have a second strategy, which I've noticed on previous occasions when the water is running high where they move to the numerous backwashes, creeks and ditches that feed into the main river.

The water remains remarkably clear in such places, even after heavy rain, and small fish are abundant too because they are sheltered from the surging torrents of the main river.

Floods can also be traumatic for fish, and I recall once finding numerous sticklebacks and minnows that had become stranded in a puddle on a bankside path after the water had receded.

When the Devon floods, it is opportunity for some, and death for others. Nature is red in tooth and claw, and life by the river is often a dangerous lottery.

  • Keith's book – 'If Rivers Could Sing' - is available at The Sorting Office in Dollar and The Muircot Farmshop near Coalsnaughton. Also available from online sellers and good bookshops.