UK must adapt for weather extremes, says Environment Agency

Gnome in flood water Some river levels fluctuated between their highest and lowest levels within the space of four months

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Britain must become more resilient to both drought and flooding, Environment Agency chairman Chris Smith has said.

New figures from the agency show that one in every five days saw flooding in 2012, but one in four days saw drought.

Rivers such as the Tyne, Ouse and Tone fell to their lowest and rose to their highest flows since records began, within a four-month period of the year.

Lord Smith said urgent action was vital to help "prepare and adapt" many aspects of Britain for such extremes.

Meteorologists fear that extremes of weather may increase as global temperatures slowly rise.

Met Office analysis has suggested that the UK could experience a severe short-term drought, similar to the drought experienced in 1976, once a decade.

Transferring water

With the population of the water-stressed south-east of England projected to grow by almost a quarter by 2035, Lord Smith argued that the number of smaller reservoirs needed to be increased immediately and that new ways of transferring water from areas where it is plentiful to areas where it is scarce must be established.

Lord Smith, whose agency covers England and Wales, insisted the reservoirs would be needed not just by farmers, but also by commercial turf growers, golf clubs, sport stadiums and race courses.

There are currently about 1,700 small-scale storage reservoirs across England and Wales, supplying 30% of total irrigation needs.

He also said more homes would need to be protected from flooding.

Lord Smith said: "The extremes of weather that we saw last year highlight the urgent need to plan for a changing climate.

"In 2012 we saw environmental damage caused by rivers with significantly reduced flows, hosepipe bans affecting millions and farmers and businesses left unable to take water from rivers.

"But we also saw the wettest year on record in England, with around 8,000 homes flooded. Interestingly 2007, which saw some of the most severe flooding in recent memory, also started the year with hosepipe bans.

"More of this extreme weather will exacerbate many of the problems that we already deal with including flooding and water scarcity, so taking action today to prepare and adapt homes, businesses, agricultural practices and infrastructure is vital."

Chart showing the lows and highs of river levels
Boggy land

He pointed out that modelling suggests that a changing climate could reduce some river flows by up to 80% during the summer in the next 40 years.

Part of the UK’s flooding problem is due to previous policies.

For decades, farmers were paid to drain boggy land in order to improve it for grazing. This caused water to rush off the fields into rivers, whereas previously it would have been held in the bogs to smooth out the flow into rivers throughout the year.

In addition, many flood plains have been built on.

Follow Roger Harrabin on Twitter @rharrabin


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  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    It's great to hear someone saying this at last. I did my PhD in this area and know what a huge undertaking this is going to be. Some people think they'll just be able to wear T-shirts more; they're in for a shock. It's not just our experience of the climate its the services the climate provides. Think food production..disease... financial turbulence etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    Another pro man made global warming article from the BBC, what a surprise.

    Temperatures have not risen for since 1997, I know this is hard for the "scientists" that get paid to keep telling us of the impending catastrophe to take, but it is true.

    Regarding flooding, as many have stated, it is because we keep build homes on FLOODPLAINS, so hardly surprising that homes are under water.

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    Those of you denying the temperature standstill over the last 16-17 years need to direct your comments to the Head of the IPCC, the UK Met Office or Dr James Hansen (NASA GISS). They all think temperatures have levelled off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.


    So what you are saying is that CO2 is main driver for global temperatures, but its effect was "offset" (I read as nullified) by other, as yet not fully identified, lesser drivers.

    The incoherence of this position is a result AGW has being erected as a Sacred cow, and in order to keep it standing intellectual honesty, logic and reason must be sacrificed.

    Good thing I have a cattle prod

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    459. Arcid

    Yes, the climate system is extremely complex with energy flowing in complex and chaotic ways. The deniers regularly point out that very obvious (and uncontested) fact except when it comes to cherry picking data from a small subset of that available when they draw very simplistic conclusions that serve their political motivations. More heat energy in = more chaos.

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    And how does he propose we force successive Governments to take their collective heads out of the sand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    Although obviously clearing ditches and keeping streams running is a big help, the essential thing is, we stop building on flood plains and any other small patch of grass. It would also help if people went back to having a front garden instead of block paving. If not where can the water go?????

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    #459 Bit got cut off. Cloud cover is reckoned to be >50% of the forcings that effect the climate) What the baseline is debatable given the lack of information (was up until the 60s having warming offset, or was it an artifically cold due to said particulates).

    We're still a new science here, but at this point we should be pushing to check all the conclusions reached, not blindly accepting them

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    We can start by making it illegal to apply for planning permission on any green field. Land that can absorb water, and grow food. In town higher building only permitted, probably new builds in flood risk areas on raised levels as the lowest floor in use. Housing on stilts even if concrete now is easy and old tech solution.
    End all immigration completely they only add to the problems of water need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    @409 Chaz Ross
    Quite the opposite really, Insurance companies are refusing to insure many more properties that are now seen to be at risk of flooding, so less insurance is being sold, it's just that Insurers take heed of what's happening and don't just wait and see before acting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    HS2 or National Grid for water. Which do we need most? Both can create construction and on going maintenance jobs. One benefits a small proportion of the country, the other benefits everybody. Or am I too naive?

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    427.Global Yawning

    Woooaaa! This is gonna ruffle some feathers.

    God is going to bring great climate change upon the Earth. It is a definitive sign to the end of life, and the second coming.
    Good to see a rational debate on an important matter being taken seriously. You seem to be unclear as to what "definitive" means but given your apocalyptic world-view, that's the least of your problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    In 1963 the Thames froze over, I have seen pictures of people walking under Kingston Bridge on the ice. We have lots of extreme weather events in this country, we get wet periods with flooding and we get dry periods, but overall it balances out to a rather damp and unpleasant climate. The issue in the South East is over-population and too much development.

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    A Sikh friend of my daughter's told me that her family still hasn't got over the shock of seeing us Brits washing cars, watering gardens, etc, WITH DRINKING WATER. Back in India, the tale is still marvelled at as a sign of unbelievable UK wealth. Seeing ourselves as others see us can sometimes be useful!

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    @452. You deny that the article is about weather and not climate,.
    You call people that disagree with you deniers as if that alone gives you moral authority.
    You then call for a few billion people to be denied the right to live (culling).
    Perhaps your moral compass is in denial too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    The biggest threat to Humanity (and most other species) is.......Humanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    #451 The thing is that given the way we're discovering how the various factors interact (and that the particulates etc have a significant effect on cloud cover, which is in itself

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    No. 128 says it all. Read that and you won't have to bother with the rest.

    Well said sir, or madam.

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    The reason the country isn't prepared for extreme weather is because we don't get any that is really that extreme, but instead, get a mish-mash of awkward weather: some wind, some flooding, some hot days, some snow. Countries with extreme weather know how to prepare because they are used to it being extreme. Generally they only need to prepare for one type of extreme, not every type of awkward.

  • Comment number 456.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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