The experiences of droughts by people in the UK can vary considerably from being barely noticed to being so severe they create long-lasting memories that can be recalled in an instant. This is because although water is essential for life and we’d all notice if we did not have a reasonable level of access to it for drinking, cooking, and hygiene, we are fortunate to have benefitted from many years of progress in water engineering which has resulted in our generally having security of supply.
Of course, there are many people in the UK reliant on private water supplies who are less well protected and may be the first to realise we are experiencing drought conditions. And, anyone making a living in the agricultural or environmental sectors will be more in-tune with intermittent breaks in the hydro-cycle, that impact the aquatic environment, grazing, and crop yields.
Droughts are to a certain extent historic events, having a slow, creeping nature that can steadily grow without being labelled as such to begin with. For many, the first inkling of a drought may come only when a hosepipe ban is issued. Even then, for non-gardeners, life can continue as normal. How we conceptualise and talk about drought therefore depends very much upon our interests and responsibilities, where we live, and the type of water supply we are connected to.
Through the Drought and Water Scarcity Programme, there have been a number of social science-based activities looking at discourses of droughts and drought narratives from memory, in an attempt to capture the lasting impacts of droughts from a societal perspective. A substantial collection of audio/visual data is now available from two projects; Drought Risk and You (DRY), and Historic Droughts. There is a large collection of materials on the DRY website including short films, songs, cartoons and poems.
For the Historic Drought Project, Dr Rebecca Pearce has been recording oral histories of droughts from across the UK. These can be accessed via the Historic Drought Inventory which includes a large collection of corresponding news reports and drought records as well as the audio recordings. To get the most from this resource, Rebecca has started the Who’d Have Thought That, About Drought Podcast series which explores the oral history collection and newspaper inventory in detail and analysis of the social impacts of droughts from 1890 to the present day.