Analysis of historic drought and water scarcity in the UK: a systems-based study of drivers, impacts and their interactions

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography

Abstract

Drought and water scarcity (D&WS) are significant threats to livelihoods and wellbeing in many countries, including the United Kingdom (UK). Parts of the UK are already water-stressed and are facing a wide range of pressures, including an expanding population and intensifying exploitation of increasingly limited water resources. In addition, many regions may become significantly drier in future due to environmental changes, all of which implies major challenges to water resource management. However, D&WS are not simply natural hazards. There are also a range of socio-economic and regulatory factors that may influence the course of droughts, such as water consumption practices and abstraction licensing regimes. Consequently, if drought and water scarcity are to be better managed, there is a need for a more detailed understanding of the links between hydrometeorological and social systems during droughts.
Based on an analysis of information from a wide range of sectors (hydrometeorological, environmental, agricultural, regulatory, social and cultural), the project will characterise and quantify the history of drought and water scarcity (D&WS) since the late 19th century and will produce the first systematic account (UK Drought Inventory) of droughts in the UK. The Inventory forms the basis of a novel joint hydro-meteorological and socio-economic analysis of the drivers of drought and their impacts, with a focus on a search for characteristic systems interactions. The enhanced systems-based understanding is expected to improve decision-making for future drought management and planning, including more informed and thus effective public discourse related to D&WS.
Currently there are no conceptual models of D&WS that describe interactions between hydrometerological and socio-economic drivers and environmental and societal impacts of droughts. The first task will therefore develop a new systems-based conceptualisation of D&WS. This will be used to investigate drought drivers, impacts and their interdependencies. The second task will produce the knowledge base for use within the project and the wider NERC UK Drought and Water Scarcity Programme. It involves the compilation of datasets and metadata, including data and information for selected case study episodes of D&WS. Information on the social and cultural aspects of D&WS will be compiled from oral histories and collation of reports in the historic and recent print and broadcast media, and the first analysis of social media from the 2010-12 drought will be carried out. The third task will develop the Drought Inventory by a novel combination of drought timelines, sector-specific narrative chronologies highlighting key events, and the production of new cross-sectoral drought indicators. To understand the interactions between social and environmental systems during D&WS episodes, the fourth task will: identify significant systems interactions across a range of droughts; identify key triggers and thresholds for droughts; and, describe the reasons behind any changes in systems interactions in droughts over the historic record. The final and fifth task examines how socio-economic context and water resource management practices contributed to resilience to episodes of D&WS in the historic record and considers the implications for changes in planning for the management of future droughts. It also provides an assessment of what are the most effective forms of dialogue and information exchange between the public and those responsible for water resource management that may contribute to beneficial outcomes during future episodes of D&WS.
The key research outcomes will be: a systems-based understanding of D&WS in the context of multiple environmental and societal drivers; an accessible, integrated cross-sector UK Drought Inventory; improved advice and methods to support decision making related to drought management; and, new strategies to re-frame public discourse related to D&WS.

Planned Impact

Due to the nature of the project, there will be multiple beneficiaries from the findings of the project. The following identifies who will benefit from the research and how they will benefit from different aspects of the proposed research.
The principal beneficiaries of the project will be: 1.) policy makers and environmental regulators in the UK; 2.) decision makers and water resource managers in water utilities; 3.) decision makers and managers in UK businesses where decisions related to water use and management are business-critical, including the agricultural sector; 4.) NGOs and Third Sector organisations with an interest in water resources issues and environmental management; 5.) the general public; 6.) communications professionals; 7.) academics and researchers with an interest in drought and water scarcity (D&WS); and 8.) the teaching profession, specifically those delivering key stage 3 and above related to environmental science.
The project will develop a systems-based understanding of D&WS. This will provide a framework for policymakers and environmental regulators, and those with responsibility for long-term water resource management to include and take account of broader socio-economic factors in decision making. Benefits will include improved, more integrated regulatory, planning and decision making processes related to D&WS in the UK.
The UK Drought Inventory, a cross-sector evidence base of historic episodes of D&WS produced by the project, will provide a common reference for policy makers and regulators, water supply companies, and UK business to make decisions in the context of D&WS and key reference droughts. This will enable the development of better drought mitigation plans, leading to improved long-term management of water resources and a reduction in the cost of droughts to UK business. Because it is a common evidence base, it will enable more consistent, transparent planning against standard benchmarks across multiple agencies.
The project will produce improved advice and methods to support decision making related to drought management during episodes of D&WS. Regulators, water resources managers, UK industry, particularly the agricultural sector, with responsibilities for strategic and operational decision making during episodes of D&WS will benefit from the advice, guidance and new methods developed to support decision making. Benefits will include more effective and timely management interventions as droughts develop and as they end; interventions based on commonly agreed principles and evidence; and, more certainty in management and co-ordination of response to droughts.
The development of new strategies to re-frame public discourse related to D&WS is a specific goal for the project. Beneficiaries of these new strategies include: policy makers and regulators; water supply companies; the public; and, NGOs and community groups, particularly those who are responsible for providing information for and engaging in dialogue with the public on issues related to water resources. The benefits include a more informed public debate around issues associated with D&WS; greater clarity regarding decision making process during droughts; wider consensus regarding the positive contribution the public can make to best water resource outcomes during episodes of D&WS.
The project will deliver a series of significant new resources for academics and researchers working in the field of drought research, that when combined with outputs from the other UK Drought Programme projects will have a significant international impact and will lead to major advances in research in this field.
The resources proposed to be developed for teachers as part of the follow-on knowledge exchange activities will provide teachers with appropriate, authoritative materials that will make their teaching of issues related to water resources more effective and will contribute to a more informed generation of young people.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The research is on-going and engagement activities are listed in this grant report. A full narrative impact will be provided at the end of the project.
First Year Of Impact 2014
 
Description Afternoon tea and memories event in Crediton, Devon 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Afternoon tea and memories event in Crediton, Devon. This event was a forum to engage people in the research through enabling them to share their memories and experiences of drought.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Brainstorm and information sharing event with Ribble Rivers Trust staff, trustees, and volunteers 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Brainstorm and information sharing event with Ribble Rivers Trust staff, trustees, and volunteers. This event sought to share the research and gather ideas for future phases of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Historic Drought Symposium at CEH, Wllingford 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation at Historic Droughts Symposium, entitled 'Recurring Themes in Historic Drought,' highlighting repeated occurrences of specific outcomes and activities that are evident in newspaper reports and the growing oral testimony collection. We were also able to demonstrate that these records can be actively utilised in collaboration with the physical scientists to verify that some hitherto assumed anomalies in river-flow reconstructions are actually droughts or freezing events.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://historicdroughts.ceh.ac.uk/content/historic-droughts-symposium-march-2016
 
Description Meeting with members of Clitheroe Civic Trust 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Meeting with members of Clitheroe Civic Trust to discuss research ideas and share initial recordings of oral history data.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Paper presented at Annual Oral History Society Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Paper presented by Rebecca Pearce entitled: Faith in Nature: Learning to Adapt to a Changing Environment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.ohs.org.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/OHSconf2017-programme-booking.pdf
 
Description Paper presented at Drought Conference at Oxford, presenting 'Engineers' Droughts and Absolute Droughts: What's the difference and why does it matter?' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Paper presented at Drought Conference at Oxford, presenting 'Engineers' Droughts and Absolute Droughts: What's the difference and why does it matter?' which took a closer look at the differences between Absolute and Engineers' droughts and how the impacts and responses to these events are different though confused in modern narratives.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Paper presented at Institute of Histroical Research in November 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Paper presented by Rebecca Pearce, entitled: Building Resilience Through Shuttlework: The Positive Contribution of Oral Testimony.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.history.ac.uk/events/event/14688
 
Description Paper presented at the Oral History Society Conference in July 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Paper presented at the Oral History Society Conference in July and presented a paper 'Using Oral Testimony as a Search Tool in the National Drought Inventory: why text and audio are still equally important'. The core theme of the conference was to explore whether new digital technologies are making the need for written text (transcripts) obsolete, and how this is influencing oral history methods and archiving techniques. This provided an opportunity to present the methods being used to locate oral testimony donors, using instrumental records and newspaper reports to identify locations and activities that may have been notably affected by past droughts, and how the resulting testimonies will be accessed through the Historic Drought Inventory which requires a text version of the testimony to be available in the database for search purposes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Podcasts of drought memories and experiences 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Podcasts of memories of drought, exploring different drought narratives.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://aboutdrought.info/experiences
 
Description Presentation of oral histories of drought to Exeter Transition group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation of oral histories of drought to Exeter Transition group, where a call was made for additional study participants. The talk also enabled the research to be brought to the attention of an important local group, which deals with environmental sustainability issues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Royal Anthropology Institute conference: Anthropology, Weather and Climate Change 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Paper presented at the Royal Anthropology Institute conference: Anthropology, Weather and Climate Change. The title of the paper was: 'Water Saving in Drought Conditions: Maximising Options in New Modern Societies'. Submitted for publication in a special issue which will hopefully either be published in July or December this year.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.therai.org.uk/conferences/anthropology-weather-and-climate-change-2016