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

Related Stories

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


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 575.


    It's very logical to blame unprecedented excessive dumpings of snow on global warming, as it is unprecedented excessive rain.

    Warm air is able to hold more moisture and contains more energy. Warm air interfacing with very cold air or getting cooled as it rises over mountains results in heavy rain or snow. The warmer the incoming air the heavier the potential snow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 574.

    during the last government, the bbc managed to get a climate change piece in pretty much every major news programme

    since the coalition has been in power, they have managed to get a daily piece on government cuts.

    has this one been thrown in just to remind us we will be going back to the global warming news agenda after the next election. labour propaganda anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 573.

    All we need is sensible long term strategic policy-making for issues such as water, energy, transport, farming, house building and usage, taking into account climate, demographics, etc. Long term means for 30, 50 years or more. Learn from sensible countries like Germany and Holland. This is for the good of our country and its people. All our politicians ever care about is the next election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 572.

    This comment needs to be directed at council planners and councilors. There is currently not enough consideration given to defining flood plains and drainage of large surface areas. Also, local councils are not doing enough to keep road and ditches clear, reducing core workers and maintenance tasks in favour of lighter activitieslighter activities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 571.

    549. Trout Mask Replica
    I would expect that as you have had your scientific arguments debunked

    I am afraid that for me to feel that my arguments have been "debunked" is going to require more a sophisticated debating technique than your putting your hands on your ears and shouting "Naa naa naa can't hear you!"
    Try questioning my education (oh no you already did that one) or maybe insult my mum?

  • rate this

    Comment number 570.


    Do you know how many molecules of CO2 that corresponds to? Let's just say it's a big number. A very, very big number.

    You may be right that 0.008% of anything is *relatively* little, but when that's 0.008% of all the molecules of gas in the Earth's atmosphere we're talking about a ridiculously large number. All are CO2 molecules, all capable of retaining energy...

  • rate this

    Comment number 569.

    From the article by Mr.Harrabin, it shows that he is suffering from total confusion about the climate. All that's concluded is that there is no "QED" about Global Warming.The other day a clip about snow in Japan higher than a bus was somehow this was blamed on Global Warming. If they cannot blame coal power stations then they blame it on cows belching. There is NO. (GW)

  • rate this

    Comment number 568.


    "join the realists who recognise that if greenhouse warming is responsible to GW then the most likely culprit"

    Again you're trying to imply a single cause when you know this is false.

  • rate this

    Comment number 567.

    "We must adapt and become more resilient": this implies that the EA think it's someone else's problem, not theirs. The fact is that we need to dig better drains and reservoirs. This must be a key part of any solution, and we ought to be creating a long-term strategic plan to do just that, on a scale not seen since Victorian times. Somehow, I bet they aren't doing anything of the sort.

  • rate this

    Comment number 566.

    560. The Bloke

    As has pointed out before, last time the anti-immigration lobby tried to blame flooding on flooding immigrants, the excessive flooding of recent years has been caused by excessive rain. The greatest flooding occurred in river valleys with mostly rural catchment areas, eg the Severn and the Wye. Rural areas, such as North Wales and west England, are not know for mass immigration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 565.

    & why do you always refer to the increase as 0.008% vol increase and not the 40% since 1850 generally used
    Yeah but 280 ppm in 1850 = 0.028% vol of atmosphere
    Add 40% to this = 0.0392% Thats still only 0.0112% VOLUME increase
    The 0.008% I said was over the last 35 yrs or so.
    The point is, the actual Volume amount of increase is small & they reckon only 4% of this is man made

  • rate this

    Comment number 564.

    In that case you are obviously sitting on the wrong side of the table, perhaps it's time to cross over and join the realists who recognise that if greenhouse warming is responsible to GW then the most likely culprit would be the green house gas with the highest concentration in the atmosphere(H2O) not one that is several times less abundant and also has a GH effect an order of magnitude lower

  • rate this

    Comment number 563.

    550 Notrocketscience1 - I didn't say that, and you know I didn't say that.
    Arguing increasing CO2 is good "because it's plant food" is plainly ridiculous. It's akin to arguing that because fish like water, flooding is good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 562.

    Has it occured to anyone that perhaps we should start to manage our numbers compassionately and intelligently.
    So,so many issues (including climate) are down to our numbers; for example; more souls, less resources = more stress & more conflict.

    There was a time where there was enough for all; sadly, tragically I think that time has passed. If we continue on our present path -> ultimate demise?

  • rate this

    Comment number 561.

    thx for the neg rating on 517, its good to know we want things done but we refuse to pay for them. ~Shrugs~ cheap this & that, I wonder if we will ever be willing to pay a true price.

  • rate this

    Comment number 560.

    Pity the BBC will always frame things in terms of
    a - Britain being crap at everything (apart from the BBC)
    b - global warming.

    The UK does suffer when it floods - so do other countries. And things ARE made a lot more difficult when some misguided people decide to 'flood' the country with immigrants, massively boosting the population and putting obvious strain on space and infrastructure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 559.

    where i was brought up we had a patch of waste land by the river we used to play on, a flood plain. every autum/winter it was submerged under 4 ft of water year in year out. i moved to OZ , came back to find a new estate build on it. £400k houses! low and behold they are are flooded out last winter. millions in insurance claims., your a halfwit for buying on a flood plain Simple !

  • rate this

    Comment number 558.

    547. BLACK_PEARL

    Global warming was first recognised as a phenomenon as early as the 1950s. A minority of scientists in the 1970s proposed that we might be heading for an ice age. This headlined. Most scientists refuted this, but did not headline.

    The bit you are partly right about; science has been used politically sometimes. Thatcher funded global warming research to discourage use of coal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 557.

    Extreme weather?

    Don't you mean people living in stupid places because it was cheap?

  • rate this

    Comment number 556.

    Its political Science now...
    40 yrs ago the same CRU were proclaiming temps were getting colder & a mini Ice Age was on the way. Is it just a bandwagen"

    No they weren't. Repeating myths doesn't make them true. In the 1970s a small number of scientists projected cooling, but not many and not for long. For nearly 40 years warming has been the mainstream.


Page 8 of 36


More Science & Environment stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.