Water Never a dull moment in world

EXPERT VIEW Growers have some respite to a challenging season thanks to a new website, says Melvyn Kay


eremy Clarkson summed up the farming year nice- ly in his Sunday Times col-

umn last month: “We have had the wettest February on record, the driest May, and the coldest July since 1988 and now a wet end to August. Crops have fried, frozen, drowned, and drowned again.” Mr Clarkson is filming for a

new series about farming for Am- azon Prime. The series is due to be broadcast next year – and prom- ises to be a warts and all look at the challenges faced by growers and livestock producers. Irrigators with full reservoirs fared reasonably well at the be- ginning of this year – only to re- port that the extended agricul- tural drought in May meant they were running on low or empty by July. They included growers across the region. It is no consolation to know

that farmers on the continent are suffering as well. Researchers re- port that the 2018-2019 Europe- an drought event was unprece- dented in the last 250 years with substantial implications for veg- etation health.

Policy makers and farmers in

France and Germany have most- ly persuaded themselves that droughts were periodic misfor- tunes. They now see more irri- gation as the way forward. But do they have enough water?

Good news

But looking ahead there is some good news for irrigators, particu- larly those who rely on summer abstractions. In March, the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrol- ogy in Oxford launched the UK Water Resources Portal* that provides almost real-time data on river flows.

The portal also provides up to date information on rainfall, soil moisture, and groundwater levels at local and national scale. Users are able to view data in any part of the country by clicking on an interactive map.

This website should enable ir- rigators to better plan their ab- stractions and take advantage of localised storms that sudden- ly increase flow over short time periods and would normally flow to waste.

It also offers access to histor- ical records to compare current events with long-term averages and significant events from the past 50 years. This can help ab- stractors better understand the state of local water resources – and provide early warning of po- tential droughts and floods.

Data sets

The portal brings together sev- eral data sets from the Envi-

ronment Agency, the Met Office, COSMOS, and British Geologi- cal Survey all in one place in an easy to use format.

River flow data comes direct- ly from the Environment Agency. This means farmers can now see the same data the Environ- ment Agency uses to make deci- sions about flow restrictions, and enable them to plan and adjust their management strategies ac- cordingly when flows start to ap- proach abstraction limits.

The portal provides access to records for river flows, rainfall, and groundwater going back to the 1960s, while the soil mois- ture data starts in 2014. River flow and groundwater measure- ments come from the UK’s 1,500 gauging stations.

COSMOS-UK provides the soil moisture estimates at field scale on a daily time step at around 60 sites across the UK for a range of soil and vegetation types. This can provide farmers

App helps ecologists combat blue-green algae

Ecologists expect an increase in blue-green algal blooms in reser- voirs, rivers and ponds following this year’s warm sprint. Blue-green algae – which can occur naturally – poses a health risk to people, livestock and wild- life, says the UK Centre for Ecol- ogy & Hydrology. It has warned people to stay vigilant and use a Bloomin’ Algae app to trace and report outbreaks. Freshwater ecologist Lau-


rence Carvalho, a freshwater ecologist with UKCEH, said: “Blue-green algae typically flourish from the end of June into the autumn. We’re expecting this to be a significant year because of how warm spring has been. Professor Carvalho said the app could help provide a rapid and more comprehensive picture of harmful algal blooms across the UK. This would help to high- light the potential health risks

and provides early warning to the public.

“The algae tend to be a viv- id green colour, sometimes with a turquoise band when it forms a scum along the shoreline. It’s like a thin layer of green paint; it doesn’t look like clumps of hair or leaves; and if you poke it with a stick it breaks up, like a cloud of dust in the water.” The app is available on Goog- le Play and the App store.

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