Experts from About Drought discuss the past few months remarkable weather

Experts from the About Drought project have given updates on the recent changeable weather we’ve been seeing in the UK and further afield.

The team at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) released a blog post which focused on the hydrological transformation following the wettest February on record, which soon turned into one of the driest springs on record. Low soil moisture and river flows at the end of May have resulted in impacts on agriculture and the environment, and heightened concerns over water resources over the longer term.

“There is now an increasing risk of reduced crop yields and potential water use restrictions.”

Katie Muchan, Hydrologist at UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Find out more by visiting the UKCEH blog post which also highlights the UK Water Resources Portal, one of the outputs from About Drought.

Adding to the debate, Professor Len Shaffrey at the University of Reading contributed to a blog post exploring the reasons as to why we are seeing such changeable weather.

The article explores whether the persistent high-pressure “blocking” weather systems which bring clear, dry conditions for many days or weeks, are becoming more frequent. These systems are particularly synonymous with heatwaves and drought in summer and bitterly cold conditions in winter.

Len explains that changes in the Arctic, “might influence the frequency of blocking events”:

“The theories suggest that as the Arctic warms, changes in the strength and position of the northern hemisphere jet stream will allow blocking events to become more frequent.” 

Professor Len Shaffrey, professor of climate science at University of Reading

Find out more by visiting the Carbon Brief blog post.

TRANS.MISSION II – UK

Hay Festival and the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) joined forces for Trans.MISSION II, a new global project pairing leading environmental researchers with award-winning storytellers to communicate cutting-edge science to new audiences. The UK strand saw British writer and journalist Patrice Lawrence paired with scientists Dr Sarah Ayling, Professor Lindsey McEwen from the DRY project. Using the project’s work as inspiration, Patrice and the team have created a piece of creative writing to highlight the issues around UK droughts and water scarcity.

Patrice Lawrence is a British writer and journalist, who has published fiction both for adults and children. Her writing has won awards including the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for Older Children and The Bookseller YA Book Prize. 

The work was launched at Hay Festival Online festival on the 25 May 2020. The story, by Patrice Lawrence, is set in the not too distant future when London is running low on water…

More information about the Hay Festival and the Trans.Mission II project.

Book bringing drought research to children wins national award – DRY: Diary of a Water Superhero

A drought storybook for children has won a national award for its beautifully illustrated message about water scarcity in the UK.

In announcing the Geographical Association Publishers’ Silver Award for ‘DRY: Diary of a Water Superhero’ on Thursday, April 16th (2020), judges said ‘… this fantastic picture book found the perfect balance as a powerful personal story line, supported by excellent art work, delivering a range of interesting geographical facts’.

The book, written as a young girl’s diary, has been published by the Drought Risk & You (DRY) Project, which is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The story runs over the course of a year and tells how an ordinary schoolgirl in the UK transforms into a water superhero when a dry summer and winter with little rainfall lead to drought. Seeing life through ‘water goggles’, the girl shares her new-found love of water with her school and community, as the drought progresses.

The story and accompanying teacher notes were created by Prof Lindsey McEwen, who heads the DRY project and is Professor of Environmental Management and Director of the Centre for Water, Communities and Resilience at the University of the West of England Bristol (UWE); Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in Education at UWE; Sarah Whitehouse, Senior Lecturer in Education & Humanities at UWE and Dr Sara Williams, an environmental psychologist and researcher. The illustrations by artist Luci Gorell Barnes play a key role in projecting the relevance of the story and the science behind it.

The award was judged on the book’s impact, originality, quality and usability.

DRY: the diary of a water hero won the Silver Geographical Association Publishers’ Award

Prof McEwen said: “Our authoring team are extremely pleased to gain this external recognition for excellence. Our book aims to make new research accessible to, and engaging for, young children. The development of the book and teachers’ notes represents a new successful creative collaboration between University of the West of England Bristol’s Centre for Water, Communities and Resilience and its Primary Education specialists, working together with socially-engaged artist Luci Gorell Barnes.”

The DRY Project is part of About Drought, the UK’s Drought & Water Scarcity Research Programme, funded by NERC as part of UK Research Innovation (UKRI). Three themes of the research are explored in the book: classifying different types of UK droughts and their impacts; interrogating common misconceptions surrounding UK drought; and exploring what actions citizens might take to prepare for drought and how children can be agents for change in rethinking water behaviours.

The full Silver Award citation reads: “The judges thought that this fantastic picture book found the perfect balance as a powerful personal story line, supported by excellent artwork, delivering a range of interesting geographical facts. This results in a book that will engage and empower a KS2 audience studying water or wider environmental issues. The accompanying teacher’s guide is filled with challenging and thought-provoking activities that include developing the concepts of ‘water footprints’ and ‘UK droughts’. They are well designed to deepen pupils’ thinking and facilitate questioning, discussion and debate. The message that we can all be champions of change is a key one and will inspire children to take action.”

DRY: Diary of a Water Superhero is available to read online in English and Welsh

Teacher’s notes are also available https://dryutility.info/learning/ 

Top author turns research into a story for Hay Festival

An award-winning author specialising in teen fiction is writing a story based on About Drought and Drought Risk & You (DRY) research for the world-famous Hay Festival.

Patrice Lawrence, whose novel Orangeboy won the Bookseller Young Adult Prize and the Waterstones Prize for Older Children’s Fiction, has been partnered with About Drought through Trans.MISSIONII, a joint initiative by UKRI NERC and Hay Festival.

About Drought and DRY have already won plaudits for their innovative approach to research, data gathering and communications through storytelling, song, animations, video, cartoons and an educational book for primary school children. Patrice has been meeting with our researchers to plan a creative piece of writing aimed at starting conversations about drought with teenagers and young adults. It will be showcased at this year’s Hay Festival held in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, from May 21-31.

Gripping storytelling for young adults

Renowned for gripping, contemporary writing, often set in black working-class communities, that connects with traditionally hard to reach young adult audiences, Patrice is finding it both stimulating and challenging to work with About Drought.

We met in the bustling Wellcome Collection café in London, swelled by shoppers and commuters sheltering from a late afternoon downpour and next to the Wellcome gift shop’s eclectic display of furry toy microbes, ‘earwax’ fudge and science-themed board games to talk about Patrice’s progress so far.

She immediately ‘confessed’: “I have no scientific background and I haven’t written about science before, so I have no idea why Hay chose me but part of the joy for me in writing is the sheer nosiness!

“I have met with Prof Lindsey McEwen, Dr Sarah Ayling and Dr Jill Thompson from the DRY project to talk through the messages from About Drought’s research and I’m now entwining them into a piece of creative writing.

Realistic look at what 2050 life will be like

“Scientists think differently from authors, I’m picking up little details and I am trying to work out how much creative licence I can have. I want to create characters that reflect the types of science in About Drought and I have been thinking ahead to 2050 – what will be different in the lives of those readers, surprising things that might have become precious and valuable – like water? Will the buildings they live, learn and work in be designed differently to cope with drought? Will we be eating different things? I want to weave those everyday differences into a very realistic portrayal of what life will be like and how we will be using water.”

Although the starting point to this story is very different for Patrice, the process is familiar. Her fiction for teens and young adults is careful not to talk down to readers and is not shy of tackling relevant issues such as crime, racism, housing and ‘lovely’ young characters who nevertheless do bad things, including knife crime.  Patrice is committed to working in schools, encouraging and inspiring young people from all backgrounds to read fiction and to write their own, regardless of their skills in spelling and grammar. While most of her books are set in London where Patrice now lives, she grew up in Sussex in an Italian-Trinidadian family.

With many books for children of all ages and adults to her credit, not to mention awards, Patrice has a successful formula for approaching each project. The approach for About Drought’s Trans.MISSIONII story is no different. She explains: “I always start with characters, I need to know who I am writing about, what the beginning situation is and the end. Then I play with the middle.

“I am writing it as a monologue, a first-person short story set in 2050 and narrated by a teenage character. I would love a young person to read it at the Hay Festival.  Young people’s voices are great. I spend a lot of time on buses, listening to young people chat to each other to capture their voices.

“What motivates me is engaging with teenagers and I do lots of work in schools with marginalised teens. They are not a ‘hard to reach’ audience, it is more that they are not reached in the right way.”

Trans.MISSIONII offers new platform

Patrice’s story will be performed / read at the Hay Festival which will also feature two other research project and artist collaborations – one from Colombia and the other from Peru. All three are aimed at communicating cutting edge science to new audiences through new methods. A video version will also be available.

Andy Fryers, Sustainability Director of Hay Festival, introduced Patrice to About Drought. He said: “We are delighted with this collaboration between the award-winning author Patrice Lawrence and the About Drought research project. Wherever we are in the world, Hay Festival is a home for storytellers, a space for writers and readers to come together and explore the biggest challenges of our time. Trans.MISSIONII offers a new platform for collaboration between storytellers from two different worlds: artists and scientists. We hope that by building this shared space for engagement at the cutting edge of environmental research with NERC, we can find new ways to imagine a better future together.”

Read more about the research, watch videos and listen to podcasts at www.AboutDrought.info

Follow Patrice Lawrence on Twitter @LawrencePatrice

Paul Crockett, Principal Officer, National Water Resources Planning Framework, Environment Agency

Informing the water industry & Environment Agency

“About Drought has informed the water industry, now we need some sort of mechanism to identify the most useful outputs from strategic to operational products. We must not let those fall through a crack now that About Drought has finished.”

Paul Crockett, Principal Officer, Environment Agency
River Teme fish rescue (© David Throup/Environment Agency)

“About Drought has helped generate a step change in thinking around what is possible and what can be done, and over the next 10 years or so we will be making better decisions, using better tools because of it,” says Paul Crockett who is leading the modelling work on the National Water Resources Planning Framework for the Environment Agency.

Yet Paul, who has worked closely with the MaRIUS project and About Drought (ENDOWS), believes there is still more to be done in encouraging the water industry to catch up with the latest outcomes of the programme’s data and tools.

Real-time decision-making support for the water industry

About Drought has supported the water industry in both strategic planning and real-time decision-making during a time when it has come under pressure to collaborate across water company boundaries on regional forward planning, as well as approaches to dealing with issues as they arise with a greater level of accountability.

MaRIUS and ENDOWS have held a series of workshop events specifically for the industry, working alongside key stakeholders to match its research to their needs.

With the National Water Resources Planning Framework driving water companies to work together to build resilience into water management with clear, joined-up direction from Government departments, agencies and water regulators, the industry is now more ready to be receptive, Paul feels.

He says: “There are a lot of great products from MaRIUS and About Drought but the water industry – the customer, if you like – is only just seeing the potential.”

Improving the industry’s understanding of statistics

Historic Droughts’ work in reconstructing reliable rainfall, river flow and groundwater data back to 1890, as well as providing standardised drought indices has been important in putting events into context, improving the industry’s understanding of statistics, the latest methodologies and stakeholder needs. There is still more to be done in migrating data from the academic models to those the water companies use.

The water resource model developed by MaRIUS is being adopted for use by Paul’s team, to help the National Water Resources Planning Framework assess the potential effects of different types of drought and climate change impacts at a national scale, and test management strategies.

Giving the water industry better knowledge and insights

Paul’s concern is that with the impacts of climate change starting to be felt on the reliability of water availability, it is the wrong time to bring About Drought to an end. He says: “It’s so important to have About Drought following on from the original research projects; it demonstrated what is possible, the better knowledge and insight we can get from the information that decisions will be based on in the future. The team really helped to educate the industry rather than just educating other academics.

“We need to look at the tools we can use to take it even further forward now that the industry is starting to buy into it more.

“About Drought has informed the water industry, now we need some sort of mechanism to identify the most useful outputs from strategic to operational products. We must not let those fall through a crack now that About Drought has finished.

“About Drought is to be applauded for what it has done but it needs more time and resources if it is to maximise the outcome for UK plc of all this research.”

Interview by Sally Stevens

Posted October 2019