Cows in flooded field© FLPA/Rex Shutterstock

Among all the misery and disruption caused by Storm Desmond, surely one of the most heartening tales was of the survival of 41 heifers swept away by the River Eden in Cumbria. 

Despite being carried away in a fast-flowing river, the heifers appear to have made their own way out at various points along the river bank.

One ended up on a golf course 18 miles downstream from home. 

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Their owner, Gordon Tweedie, described it as a miracle and indeed it does seem extraordinary.

Given the way cattle are usually kept fenced away from rivers and lakes, it is easy to forget that they are actually good swimmers. 

Up until a couple of years ago, it was still the practice in Skye to swim cattle across the sea to their winter grazing on a smaller island. These weren’t some speciality native breed with added fins – the last herd to do this were British Limousins.

Elizabeth Elder and her husband Jake run sheep and cattle on 235ha of hill ground on the Otterburn Firing Range in Northumberland.

Photographs are available of them up to their necks, propelling themselves along with a sort of doggy-paddle for the 150-yard crossing.  

Sheep are a different matter. Their fleeces weigh them down in the water and drag them under. So there is rarely a happy outcome if they are in the water for long.

Of course, the fact of patently being non-swimmers does not prevent hill sheep from trying to paddle across anyway and getting into difficulty even in normal conditions.

This means hill shepherds frequently end up with waterlogged wellies and a tendency towards trench foot. This is barely compensated for by their highly developed, niche and not very transferable skills in hooking something quite heavy out of the water with a crook.

During the big storm, we had gales and a downpour but only one power cut, no major damage and no stock losses. 

Our moorland is fairly rough and has absorbed a huge amount of water. 

However, the heavy rain on saturated ground transformed the normally trickling stream by the house into a torrent roaring down into the burn and thence into the Rede, the North Tyne and the Tyne itself. 

So on that basis, according to the theories of Guardian writer George Monbiot, which were trotted out again this week, as upland sheep farmers it seems we must be responsible for flooding Corbridge.

I hope nobody lets Tynedale RFC know that the swamping of their clubhouse and pitches was our fault – they might send the boys round. 

Surely the elephant in the room, or rather the overflowing river in the house, with regard to the Cumbrian floods is the sheer volume of rain which fell during the storm – a record 13.44in in 24 hours at Honister and the worry that this sort of deluge is becoming more regular.

It is only five years since the previous UK 24-hour rainfall record of 12.7 inches was set.

Some serious work and incentives are going to have to go in to slowing excess flows from the hills, perhaps through targeted planting and damming, but even so with that level of rainfall some level of flooding downstream looks unavoidable.

So buildings and infrastructure in vulnerable areas are going to have to be adapted to make them more resilient.

Meanwhile, we woke up to this winter’s first fall of snow here this morning. This fact seems to have eluded our local authority as the gates to the ploughing and gritting depot remained locked. Let’s hope that the same people aren’t put in charge of planning for future adverse weather events.