Sustainability report shows impact of climate change and extreme weather on racing industry

Worcester Race Course flooded
Worcester Race Course has been flooded by storms in several years including 2007, 2014 and 2020

Horse racing must take an "industry-wide" approach to mitigate the risk of climate change, a new report warns.

The report, commissioned by the racing industry and produced by environmental consultants White Griffin, wants a review of infrastructure at racecourses to prepare for extreme weather events.

The study also looks at sustainability issues around carbon emissions, waste disposal and supply chain management.

Racing is the third largest water consumer in the UK leisure industry.

With the Environment Agency warning that action is needed to avoid water shortages, British horseracing officials say they are keen to take a lead in addressing sustainability, equip racecourses to use water more efficiently, and protect the wellbeing of horses and jockeys.

Brant Dunshea of the British Horseracing Authority said the findings will help the sport address its priorities and "secure a sustainable future for our horses, people and businesses".

Between 2017 and 2019 a total of 91 racing fixtures were abandoned because of waterlogging.

A further 14 were lost to hard ground, increasing the risk of flooding, with significant financial impact on racing.

The report directly links extreme weather events to climate change and says the industry must make strategic plans in expectation of more to come.

The UK has experienced nine of its hottest and driest years on record within the last 20 years and heavy rainfall on hard ground can cause flash flooding.

Some racecourses have installed flood defences, but given the expense involved the report says horseracing may need to adopt a "centralised approach" to support those courses most at risk of flooding.

It highlighted Huntingdon, Southwell and Worcester as examples of courses affected by recent extreme weather events.

Demands on water supply are also likely to increase in line with rising temperatures, and while all racecourses are already committed to responsible water use, further reviews into accessing boreholes and reservoirs to utilise natural water supplies is needed to reduce consumption and better prepare for droughts.

Some racecourses are already practising water sustainability, with Ascot having created a "circular water system, which harvests rainwater from its roof to feed into the reservoir, improving self-sufficiency".

The report also referred to the impact of climate change on horses and suggested that adapting modes of transportation could be needed as summer temperatures increase. Government proposals could potentially require air conditioning to be used in horses boxes in the future if temperatures exceed 30 degrees.

On carbon emissions, the report acknowledged horseracing's heavy reliance on fossil fuels for transportation and energy needs, but said that its long-term goal is to phase out their use entirely and replace them with clean energy.

Tackling waste from race meets, including single-use plastics, non-recyclable waste and solid waste, is also under review.

The report said 16 racecourses have banned single-use plastic items like cups and and replaced them with reusable options. Elsewhere, the estimated 160-miles of plastic rails surrounding racecourses will eventually be replaced with recyclable versions made from 80% recyclable material.

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