Fish rescue from low flow river
Fish rescue from low flows in the River Teme (© David Throup, Environment Agency)

Much of the existing regulatory framework around drought seeks to ensure sufficient water for maintaining aquatic ecosystems. However, our understanding of drought impacts on ecology is based on a limited evidence base.

About Drought demonstrated that river ecosystems may alter significantly during droughts with, for example, reductions in invertebrate density and richness. However, they can often recover after droughts over different timescales according to the species which has potential implications for abstraction licencing as it may be as important to ensure rivers have sufficient water during recovery periods as during droughts. In general, recent advances in scientific understanding are yet to be implemented into decision-making processes (e.g. triggers in drought plans, environmental flow thresholds). All three statutory organisations (the Environment Agency, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, SEPA, and Natural Resources Wales, NRW links) have been formalising their approaches to drought planning, management and communication in recent years. These operational drivers are evolving and regulators acknowledge that there is opportunity for the development of locally relevant drought indicators that exploit the new developments delivered in the DWS programme, including a better understanding of ecosystem responses and impacts.

The Environment workstream has:

  • Consolidated knowledge, data and understanding on drought impacts on the aquatic and terrestrial environments, and their recovery from drought by preparing synthesis reports for Rivers and Streams, Wetlands, Lakes and Reservoirs, Woodlands, Grasslands;
  • Showed how data from various parts of the About Drought programme can be integrated at the catchment scale to support understanding about local scale drought histories and futures, and how this can be used for planning drought resilience at the catchment scale;
  • Supported better water allocation: demonstrating how About Drought data and knowledge can be used to support decision-making including trade-offs and reconciling environmental flows and abstractions.

Posted October 2019