Coping during drought and heat in the short term

Published 13 July 18

Dry GrassThe recent hot weather and low rainfall has resulted in an agricultural drought situation with soil moisture at the end of June the driest on record for the UK as a whole. However, it is not a hydrological drought situation yet. The July 2018 Hydrological Outlook from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology notes that, as a result of the wet spring, river flows in the south east, central and eastern parts of England are normal. However, the low rainfall in May and June has resulted in in parts of the UK that are below normal or exceptionally low (e.g. northern and eastern Scotland, north-west and south-west England, much of Wales and Northern Ireland).

Do’s and Don’ts

You can – trade water with other users, use alternative sources, reduce or optimise water usage, use rainwater that has been collected and stored where the usage doesn’t require drinking water quality water to be used

You can’t – abstract more than your licence or exemption allows, abstract when restrictions are in place, take water without a licence, you shouldn’t allow livestock direct access to watercourses if possible

Is there an alternative source of supply?

  • Where possible switch water use to boreholes, issues are currently primarily with surface water abstraction.
  • Switching to mains water (where this is possible) is a more costly option but might be worthwhile as a short term measure – check with your water company
  • Trading water with other abstractors is possible though can be difficult to achieve quickly, you will need to check with the regulator to see if this will be possible (EA Water Trading on, Contact NRW or Contact SEPA

Top tips for livestock

  • Animal welfare requirements are a priority with heat stress the greatest concern. Sufficient clean drinking water must be provided to livestock.
    • Check there is sufficient good quality water being supplied to livestock and it is being supplied correctly, if transporting water in bowsers or containers ensure they are cleaned to prevent contamination of drinking water
    • Provide shade, ventilation and avoid handling in the middle of the day to reduce heat stress, check livestock more frequently and watch for signs of heat stress
    • More detailed information on heat stress and livestock can be found on sector specific websites:  AHDB Beef & Lamb and AHDB Dairy
    • Feed and fodder issues may be encountered later in the year as grass growth is down (see NFU Fodder Bank for trading opportunities)
    • Any collected and stored rainwater may be suitable for some on-farm operations to reduce the overall mains or abstracted water usage, see Effective use of water on dairy farms, Water use, reduction and rainwater harvesting on beef and sheep farms.

The outlook over the next three months is for river flows that may fall below normal or even reach exceptionally low levels. In contrast, supplies from groundwater sources (other than responsive limestone aquifers) are generally good at the moment according to most recent information on the water situation (see Environment Agency Water Situation Reports, Natural Resources Wales Water Situation Report and Scottish Environment Protection Agency Water Scarcity Report for reports).