Orange ditches

You might notice, as you wander around the forest, that many of the ditches are choked with an orangey-brown “gunk”.

A "rusty" drainage ditch, Newborough Forest

A “rusty” drainage ditch, Newborough Forest – this one isn’t too gunky yet, just rusty.

The gunk is caused by bacteria that “feed” on iron: it looks like rust, and that is pretty much what it is: oxidised iron.

Although it is “natural”, this gunk is not good for wildlife. As the year goes on and the temperatures rise, the bacteria become more active, the trees take up more water and the ditches become more and more sluggish and suffocating.

Historically, the ditches would have been flushed through from time to time by rainstorms.  In those days, the gunk wouldn’t be able to build up so much. But nowadays, the ditches are neglected and choked and they never run freely anymore.


5 thoughts on “Orange ditches

  1. mike jackson

    I have noticed these orange ditches and I’ve always previously associated this type of iron oxide water pollution as being a result of the run off or ‘tailings’ from old quarries or mines but I’m not aware there are any in this area? In this case is this pollution just naturally occurring??

    1. Kay hortographical Post author

      I think (but am no expert!) that in this area, the iron oxidation is just naturally arising from the soils. You’re quite right that usually it is associated with mining/quarrying.

  2. Annie

    I’ve seen many tea colored water after big storms in small rivers, ditches, etc. but nothing as orange at the ditch above. Are tannins from decaying vegetation a different thing or the same thing as this rust?

    1. Kay hortographical Post author

      There probably are tannins from decaying vegetation adding to the discolouration. But I think mainly this is iron oxides.
      The ditch in the picture is actually looking quite good at the moment – the rain over winter has helped to dilute things. Later in the year it will just be a thick gloop:(

  3. Martin Jones

    WE had them here in Cheshire when I was a boy; the ditches were often quite boggy and the orange mud was always known as “Red Lady” and to be avoided as you could they say be sucked in by the mud and disappear forever!



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