THE devastating floods in Brechin earlier this month came as no big surprise to locals and neither should they have to anyone who visits the town and looks up at the landscape around it.

Flood preventions schemes will not work. They cannot work. And the £16 million of public money spent in 2016 effectively went down the drain – or down the river, to be more precise.

Brechin is shaped liked a bowl and in the middle of the bowl’s curvature is the river. The appropriately named River Street, where the houses had to be evacuated, has repeatedly been flooded for more than 200 years. Only last November, 30 households had to evacuate.

There is a certain arrogance in us if we think we can stop it. I lived in the town for several years and it seems inevitable that it will keep happening. The only smart thing to do is to leave it as it is and keep the area as a flood plain. Or we can keep throwing money at it and constructing walls and drains, and hope our engineering can outwit nature.

But there is another option.

We can learn our lesson and finally take the teaching to heart.

Go to the river South Esk and look up at the valley to the hillsides and what do you see? Barren sloping hills with nothing on them. At the tops you might see a few scattered spruce plantation trees but that is it. And this is one of our big problems.

Trees and forests are essential to keep ground water levels down. Trees with strong healthy roots dig down into the soil of our hillsides and drink the water that is there. If there are no trees, the water will simply roll down the slopes. The canopies and roots also divert rainfall, slowing down its course, and preventing it from rushing into rivers all at once.

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But we can’t just have any trees. We need old trees. A diverse mix of them. Native trees. Healthy trees.

We do not have enough of any of those (only 4% of Scotland is native forest).

Instead, we have Sitka spruce plantations, like the ones you see scattered around the hills in Brechin, and across a lot of Scotland. Grown in 30-year cycles to then cut down again and replaced. This is good, we need wood.

The National: Scots Pine near Ennerdale that suffered from wind burn

But it wreaks havoc on our ecology. Spruce plantations, and pine plantations too, do not allow a lot of life inside them. Little wildlife, and you won’t see many birds. But the soil, especially, is poor. The roots are not given time to dig deep and take a good hold of the earth, so they are left weak and exposed to any arriving storms.

This was ruthlessly shown last year, when storms Corrie and Malik came in on the back of each other and wiped out whole forests in Angus in the space of a few nights. The soil was so thin, and the tree roots so weak, that when the winds came, the trees simply toppled into each other like so many dominoes. And then it was all gone.

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I studied ecology for years and have done a lot of work with nature conservation charities such as National Trust and Trees for Life, but this was a shock to even me.

Some of my favourite local forests, that I used to love to walk in and had often gone to restore myself and to be at peace, were ripped out and totally destroyed. Many of the fallen trees have still not been moved. Go there now and it’s like a bomb site.

We have to take heed and learn from this.

Because with climate change things will only get much worse.

But there are plans to try to sort some of these problems in sensible ways. Forestry and Land Scotland recently purchased the nearby Glen Prosen Estate.

Its remit is to “make significant improvements over time – restoring riparian zones and eroded peatland, adapting existing plantations, and creating new native woodland to increase the land’s resilience against mounting threats such as climate change and biodiversity loss”.

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They also plan to: “Consult communities … and develop and combine plans for the Glens into one Angus Land Management Plan covering Glen Doll, Glen Prosen, Glen Isla and Glen Markie. It will take 12-18 months to develop and some initial changes to the landscape should be noticeable within two to three years although significant woodland expansion will take several more years.”

The consultation process has been excellent and local communities have been encouraged to input their opinions and desires for the Angus hills and glens.

At the moment (in my probably very strong opinion), they are currently very ugly. Barren. Lifeless. Tamed. Domesticated. There is little ecology in them and they are not healthy. Sporting estates add into this, too.

But this is very promising. One hundred years ago, forest only covered 5% of Scotland. It is now 18% (the European average is 43%) and the right trees and forests are starting to be planted, where it is practical.

We have to be positive and learn the lessons we have been shown.

We can’t fully prevent future floods, but we can offset them, reduce their impact and be more prepared for them in future – by showing common sense, and working and living alongside nature. And not trying to outsmart it.