Trevor Bishop, Director, Water Resources South East & MD of H2Outcomes

Translating academic research for policy-makers

“About Drought has brought policy-makers, scientists and academics together and that is becoming more important because the complexities and uncertainties in the science are fundamental to making the best policy decisions, especially with climate change playing an increasing role”

Trevor Bishop, Director, Water Resources South East & MD of H2Outcomes

The person in the driving seat of the UK’s response to the 2012 drought was Trevor Bishop, then Deputy Director of Water Resources at the Environment Agency and Ofwat’s Director for Strategy & Planning during the 2018 hot dry summer of peak demand.

With a water crisis looming in 2012, he was appointed to co-ordinate the first multi sector cross cutting National Drought Group, reporting directly to the Government,  and bringing together companies, regulators and government departments, representatives of agriculture and power groups and chaired by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Caroline Spelman.

Trevor recalls: “In a worst-case scenario we were within 160 days of running out of water for some parts of London, with the 2012 Olympics on the horizon, 20 million people were on water restrictions and so were several thousand businesses for which water was critical.”

2012 drought triggered investment in research

Many parts of England had experienced the driest 18 months for more than 100 years and the crisis triggered the Research Councils’ £12m investment in the UK’s Drought & Water Scarcity Research Programme and several projects, now collectively known as About Drought.

He says: “About Drought is helping us to understand what the evidence is really saying so people like me can get behind the science. The events About Drought has held are the best I have seen at doing that.”

One of the most complex messages to translate from academia to policy and decision-makers is uncertainty. As a scientist by background, Trevor says: “Uncertainty is absolutely key, confidence in evidence data and About Drought’s better and more timely presentation of data is helping decision-makers to better manage uncertainty.

Trusted relationships for scientists and decision-makers

“The people making key decisions in a water crisis are generally not scientists and they may not always understand some of the subtleties behind academic report headlines. There are so many different layers in pure science, and decision-makers are always at risk of mis-representing some of the science.”

The solution is to build trusted, working relationships between policy-makers and the scientists behind the research, Trevor believes, involving more scientists in policy-making, working closely with universities and research organisations and maintaining that network beyond the life of the About Drought programme.

He explains: “Academics tend to operate in a semi-closed community but About Drought has brought policy-makers, scientists and academics together and that is becoming more and more important because the complexities and uncertainties in the science are fundamental to making the best policy decisions, especially with climate change playing an increasing role.”

Reliable data, meaningful and effective tools

The benefits of the relationships and community created by About Drought were felt in last summer’s dry spell. Trevor credits the MaRIUS project, in particular, with providing reliable data through meaningful and effective tools, such as the National Water Resources Model (WATHNET).

He says: “The models of drought we had were already starting to not perform as well as they used to because we are already seeing the subtle shifts that are taking place due to climate change, so we can’t rely on past data so much. But About Drought helped us and it was really good last summer to see key policy-makers and decision-makers thinking big and acting early.

“At least once a year we should bring this community we have formed together again – the policy-makers, the top scientists and academics – because that link needs to be rock solid.”

Interview by Sally Stevens

Posted October 2019

About Drought Download Nov 7th

All the data, all the learnings, all the resources, all in one place!

Thursday, November 7, 2019 from 10 am to 3.30 pm
Location: The Royal Society, London, SW1Y 5AG
Registration: via Eventbrite – free to attend but spaces are limited (note that registration closes on the 23rd of October)
Programme: draft programme (PDF)

Draft programme for the About Drought Download conference (available as PDF from in page link)
Draft programme

About Drought Download is the final event of the 5-year UK Drought and Water Scarcity Research Programme, showcasing the difference our work is already making. Register via Eventbrite – there is no charge for this event, but registration is necessary and spaces are limited. Please note that registration closes on the 23rd of October.

See the draft programme, so you can plan to attend this accessible, stimulating day. The event is aimed at decision-makers in water supply, the energy industry, policy, business, environment, agriculture or the public sector. Visitors can engage with hands-on multi-disciplinary programme outputs, listen to and question programme experts in a wide range of drought-related fields, network with people working on drought, and meet users of the outputs from the programme.

  • How is climate change affecting water supply in the UK?
  • What does it mean for policy and industry?
  • What forecasting breakthroughs have been made & how are these already being used?
  • How can we protect the UK’s natural landscape from water shortage?

Report back from Drought & Water Scarcity Conference

Drought and Water Scarcity: addressing current and future challenges, International Conference

View presentations below

This international event was held at Pembroke College, University of Oxford over 20-21 March 2019.

Speakers from around the world gathered to present and discuss their research on drought and water scarcity.  There was an impressive range of data, topics, in-depth knowledge and communication insights which demonstrated the breadth and interdisciplinary nature of research into drought and water scarcity.

Delegates heard that drought and water scarcity are expected to become more severe due to the influence of climate change and pressure on water resources from economic and demographic changes.  The impacts of this affects hydrology, agriculture and farming, industry and communities.  Water and the lack of water effects every aspects of society and the environment, and the lack of water has profound consequences.

You can see the full programme here.

A number of the oral and poster presenters have kindly given permission to share their work.  You can access the presentations by clicking on the links below.

 

Presentations available to view

 

Amanda Fencl, University of California, Davis – “Interconnections between Research on Groundwater, Drought and Climate Change

Anne van Loon, Birmingham University – “Drought in the Anthropocene: vulnerability & resilience

Antonia Liguori, Loughborough University – “Learning around ‘storying water’ to build an evidence base to support better decision-making in UK drought risk management

Ayilobeni Kikon, National Institute of Technology Karnataka – “Application of Optimized Machine Learning Technique in Drought Forecasting Using SPI

Caroline King, CEH; co-authored with Daniel Tsegai, Programme Officer, UNCCD Secretariat – “A review of methods for drought impact and vulnerability assessment

Cedric Laize, TBI & GeoData Institute – “Relationship between a drought-oriented streamflow index and a series of riverine biological indicators

Christopher Nankervis, Weather Logistics Ltd – “Use of Copernicus seasonal climate forecast model data to improve the accuracy of long-term forecasts: the UK Summer Rainfall Insights project.”

Daniela Anghileri, University of Southampton – “Strengthening research capabilities for addressing water and food security challenges in sub-Saharan Africa

Emma Cross, Environment Agency – “The 2018 heatwave; its impacts on people and the environment in Thames Area

Elizabeth Brock, Met Office; Katherine Smart, Anglian Water – “Re-analysis of historical events using up to date extreme value techniques, to determine the return period of historical and stochastic droughts, with particular reference to ‘severe’ or 1 in 200 year return period events

Feyera A. Hirpa, Ellen Dyer, Rob Hope, Daniel O. Olago, Simon J. Dadson, University of Oxford – “Finding sustainable water futures in the Turkwel River basin, Kenya under climate change and variability

Fiona Lobley, Environment Agency – “2018 dry weather and its impacts; looking ahead to 2019

Frederick Otu-Larbi, Lancaster University – “Modelling the effects of drought stress on photosynthesis and latent heat fluxes.

Granville Davies and Miranda Foster, Yorkshire Water – “Water resources in Yorkshire, UK in 2018: drought management, perception and communication

Harry West, University of the West of England, Bristol – “Examining spatial variations in the utility of SPI as a 3-month-ahead environmental drought indicator

Henny van Lanen, Wageningen University & Research – “The 2018 NW European Drought: warnings from an extreme event

Katherine Smart, Anglian Water; Elizabeth Brock, Met Office – “Re-analysis of historical events using up to date extreme value techniques, to determine the return period of historical and stochastic droughts, with particular reference to ‘severe’ or 1 in 200 year return period events

Kerstin Stahl, Freiburg – “Customizing drought indices to improve drought impact monitoring and prediction

Kevin Grecksch, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford – “Achieving water efficiency through social norms in the public sector

Len Shaffrey, NCAS, University of Reading – “Has climate change increased the chance of events like the 1976 North West European drought occurring?”

Lucy Barker, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology – “How severe were historic hydrological droughts in the UK? Insights from a systematic characterisation and ranking of events back to 1891

Mark Smith, Hydro-Logic Services (International) Ltd – “Recent trends in water resources planning and management, and the rising importance of planning processes in reflecting the ‘consequences’ of relevance and interest to customers and stakeholders

Massimiliano Pasqui, CNR – “A customizable drought monitoring and seasonal forecasting service to support different users’ needs

Matt Fry, CEH – “The Historic Droughts Inventory: an accessible archive of past drought impact information for the UK from diverse documentary sources

Miranda Foster and Granville Davies, Yorkshire Water – “Water resources in Yorkshire, UK in 2018: drought management, perception and communication

Mike Morecroft, Natural England – “Drought impacts on the natural environment and lessons for climate change adaptation

Nikos Mastrantonas, CEH – “Drought Libraries for enhanced resilience in long term water resource planning in the UK

Paul Whitehead, University of Oxford – “Impacts of climate change on water quality affecting upland and lowland rivers, wetlands and delta systems

Peter Anthony Cook, NCAS-Climate, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading – “Variations in the West African Monsoon from reanalysis and model results

Peter Kettlewell, Harper Adams University – “Mitigating drought impact on crop yield by applying film-forming polymers

Rob Wilby, Loughborough – “Challenging the mantra of wetter-winters, drier summers in the UK

Ruth Langridge, University of California, Santa Cruz – “Groundwater management in planning for drought: experience from California, USA

Sandra Santos, Wageningen University – “Improving institutional frameworks integrating local initiatives from communities exposed to drought and water scarcity in Ecuador

Stephen McGuire, SEPA – “Assessing the impacts of water scarcity in Northeast Scotland through the summer of 2018.”

Wiza Mphande, Harper Adams University – “Elucidating Drought Mitigation with Antitranspirants in Spring Wheat