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Historic droughts in the UK: What can we learn to improve agricultural drought management in the future?

IWRA World Water Congress 2017 - Cancun Mexico
3. Water security in a changing world
Author(s): Dolores Rey
Ian Holman
Jerry Knox

Dolores Rey
Cranfield University
Ian Holman
Cranfield University
Jerry Knox
Cranfield University

Keyword(s): droughts, agriculture, UK, impacts, responses


Agriculture is the main water user worldwide, and hence the most affected sector during low water availability periods. Droughts are the main cause of economic losses in agriculture in many countries. Despite being a humid climate, droughts are a recurrent phenomenon in the UK. The purpose of this paper is to better understand how droughts have affected agriculture in the UK to improve decision making in the future and to increase the resilience of this sector to this natural hazard.

For doing this, a systematic literature review of the main sources of information related to the UK agricultural sector has been carried out for the most recent drought episodes (1975-76, 1988-92, 1995-97, 2003-06 and 2010-12). The information has been classified according to different criteria. Using a DPSIR framework (Drivers, Pressures, States, Impacts, Responses) the information has been categorized accordingly to facilitate its analysis afterwards. The analysis started with a set of a priori subcategories to identify relevant themes within each DPSIR category. During the literature review, new subcategories arose, which were subsequently included into the DPSIR framework. Conversely, some a priori subcategories were removed or merged with others, as needed. This method facilitated the process of aggregating all the individual pieces of information associated with a particular theme, and hence the interpretation of the qualitative data contained in the dataset. A generic DPSIR framework will be produced for the 1975-76 and the 2010-12 drought, showing the cause-effect relationships of the different subcategories, to assess how the different elements have changed over time. Besides, the information has been categorized spatially using three levels of NUTS (Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics). Also, we distinguished between different type of agricultural activities (rainfed, irrigated, livestock, grass). From the dataset created with this information, a timeline based on the DPSIR analysis and a narrative for each drought event were constructed, facilitating the comparison between different drought periods and allowing the evaluation of the evolution of the impacts and responses based on changes in technology, cropping and irrigation techniques, regulation and information. Our findings were also validated with semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders (growers and water regulatory staff) in the driest region in the UK (Anglian region).

Our results show how the different drought events have impacted the agricultural sector, how farmers and regulators have responded to those impacts, and how the management of droughts in UK agriculture has evolved over time. This analysis will help to inform decision making in drought management in UK agriculture, and some of the lessons learnt can be extrapolated to other contexts. The analysis can be replicated elsewhere. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of extreme events, including droughts. Thus, all the efforts to improve our future preparedness and to reduce our exposure and vulnerability to drought are worthwhile.

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