As we move into autumn we can look back on the summer of 2018 and one of the hottest summers on record in the UK.
While on the one hand this was good for tourism, travel operators reported a dip in bookings for holidays in other countries as people stayed at home to enjoy the warm weather. There were other, more far reaching financial and environmental impacts too.
The long period of dry weather impacted on agricultural crop yields, with losses as high as 25% for some farmers on popular products such as potatoes, lettuce, onions and carrots; this led to price increases of as high as 61% for some items. Some also anticipate that there could be an overall increase to average food bills by 5% in the months ahead. Feed for livestock was also affected as the hot weather stunted plant growth and some farmers were forced to use winterfeed to ensure their dairy cattle had enough to eat and continued to produce milk.
The Environment Agency were called out to numerous drought related incidents when fish gasped in rivers and canals, as the hot weather reduced oxygen levels in the water and some even dried up completely. Animals such as moles and badgers found it more difficult to find food as insects and worms burrowed deeper into the earth to escape the hard dry ground.
As the warm weather continued moorland grasses dried out and 50 properties had to be evacuated when wildfires destroyed over 7 square miles of moorland on Sadddleworth Moor and Winter Hill. This raised concerns that pollutants that have been naturally locked away by the moorland peat from the industrial revolution could be released back into the atmosphere by the fires.
While managed burning of moorland is carried out on some SSSI’s and national parks to promote the new growth of heathers and grasses, the wildfires destroyed diverse wildlife habitat and burned large areas of peat which grows at only 1mm per year. Moorlands are natural sponges which soak up rainfall in the upper catchment, slow surface water flow and can reduce the effects of flash flooding further downstream.
Months of continuous warm weather also baked the ground solid, potentially reducing the soils ability to infiltrate surface water on the green areas around our towns and cities which may lead to an increase the amount of runoff into our rivers, streams and urban areas when the wetter weather arrives.
Perhaps as more natural flood management measures such as grip blocking and woodland planting are implemented in the uplands to reduce peak flow in times of heavy rainfall or to hold water in the peatlands, they may also provide an additional benefit of holding more water back for longer and alleviating some of the effects of drying out during these longer periods of warm weather. Read more about peatland in our blog here.
With experts predicting that climate change will lead to more extreme periods of wet and dry weather, it seems that in the future we will need to be more resilient to the effects of flooding, while at the same time being more resilient to the effects of warmer, drier weather.